Keeper Stories – Thursday, March 9
I’m going to veer off animals for just a moment and talk about your second favorite subject, zookeepers! After looking at my own experience and talking to other keepers and interns, I have come to the conclusion that becoming a zookeeper has similar stages as a person deciding what they want to be when they grow up.
When we were little kids, we all had crazy dreams of what we would be when we grew up. Personally, I wanted to be a dinosaur (you can ask my mom) or Indiana Jones. As new interns, we first enter the zoo world, bright-eyed and ready to go, because we KNOW where we want to work – carnivores, elephants, rhinos, program animals, etc. – but these ideas tend to change and evolve with us as we spend more time in the zoo field. Interns do a lot of physical labor, but they start forming important relationships with both the animals and the keepers that influence their career path. They get a feel of the area they are in, and decide if it’s something they would like to do for the long run.
As kids turn to young adults, they start finding who they are, and have more realistic ideas as to what careers they want to pursue. As future zookeepers, we often go through several internships and seasonal positions to find where we want to end up. Frequently the animal group an intern came in knowing they just HAD to work with changes to another totally unrelated group of animals. I’ve seen an intern come in as an elephant person, but she turned into a pretty amazing reptile keeper who couldn’t see herself anywhere else. Personally, I came in thinking I was all otters and tigers, but that all changed when I met Logan the fossa and Timber the binturong. It’s not that big of a change since they’re still carnivores, but they are what I am passionate about now. Most zookeepers have had this switch happen, and it’s really amazing to see how we all changed and grew into the keepers we are now.
So next time you see a zookeeper (unless they’re moving something really heavy), ask them about how they got to where they are. Zookeepers have some of the best, funniest, greatest stories to tell, and we love to share them. We are an extremely passionate group of people, and you can see the light in our eyes when we talk about the animals. I hope this gave you a fun insight into the world of zookeeping!
Swing Keeper I, Mammals