Thursday, October 6
Hello, Zoo fans! My name is Matt Schultz, and I am the new Swing Keeper for the Mammal Department. I really feel like I won the lottery with this job. The Swing Keeper works with all the mammals in the Zoo except the primates and the program animals, which is perfect for me because I could never pick a favorite. I have always loved animals and admired their different adaptations and abilities to survive. I wish I could climb like a fossa, be strong like a lion, and swim like an otter, but I don’t have fossa feet, so I work at the Zoo and admire animals cooler than me.
It is an honor and privilege to work at Zoo Atlanta. The quality and standards for animal care is unlike any I have ever seen. I have been working in the Carnivore Department since I started, and I have never seen so much conviction, devotion, and love in animal care. As keepers we are provided with the time and resources necessary to take the best possible care of our animals. Our focus is strictly on animal health and well-being. The majority of our day is cleaning, training and enrichment. Our Carnivore Department consists of seven species. We have three lions, a binturong, a fossa, two giant river otters, two Sumatran tigers, two sun bears and a clouded leopard. Each species is amazing and unique, but it’s the personality behind each animal that is truly special. I am from Atlanta, and our Zoo had a huge impact on my life. Each animal as a species and an individual are truly remarkable and just about brought me to tears.
Our river otters Bakairi and Yzma will make you laugh on your worst days. Full of personality, these two come in to eat like a freight train! Otters are very active and busy animals with a high metabolism. Because of that we feed our otters five times a day. We feed them inside because they hide food in our water system! In the wild, this is called caching; at the Zoo, it’s a costly habit! When we move them inside to feed, they come running inside talking and full of energy. All our animals know a variety of behaviors to help us take better care of them. Bakairi and Yzma are always ready to train. They learn quickly and love their fishy rewards. As active as these two are, they are lazy in the morning. One of the best and worst parts of my day is opening otters. I love to see them sleepy and curled up together but hate being the one waking them up. In the morning they are dry so they are fluffy and light brown. Snuggled up together they yawn and stretch, rub their little eyes and stare at me in disbelief as if saying why would you wake us up. I keep the lights off as long as I can and work as quietly as I can as to not disturb our sleepy little angels. But they go from zero to 100 in no time. As soon as they hit the water, it’s playtime and when are we going to eat!
Our three lion brothers are just fascinating. Each one has his own personality, but Hondo is our biggest boy in size and attitude! He truly is the king of beasts. Hondo does not play with toys or seek attention from keepers. He’s strong and stoic, content to watch over his brothers and kingdom. It’s hard to get a reaction out of Hondo. His main interests are food and keeping his territory safe. Elephant feces and bird feathers he attacks, but everything else is just silly games kids play. Hatari is the most cat-like. Very playful and silly. He loves balls, rolling, catching, biting, and scratching. He’s a boy who almost always wants a little attention. Azizi is a balance of the two. He is the instigator when it comes to playtime. He is often less interested in the enrichment and more interested in keeping it away from his brothers.
Our binturong Timber is just the queen of carnivores. Timber is at the ripe old age of 18. She is often sleeping in her hammock or feeding platform. If she doesn’t feel like coming inside for food, we’ll just feed her in bed. She’s a simple girl with a lot of class and style.
Our fossa Logan is just the coolest. He is often hard to find but worth the wait. A fossa is really like nothing else. Only found on Madagascar, they are the top predator there and are fast and agile enough to prey on lemurs. From his nose to his tail, Logan is just remarkable. He balances on balls, climbs effortlessly through his habitat, and no matter how hard I try to hide his treats, it only takes him minutes to find them.
I am amazed to see and be a part of the enrichment program. Enrichment is designed to make our animals happy. It’s a variety of things, from a water hose, herbs from the garden, toys, hiding food or changing their habitat. Every day, sometimes two or three times a day, we provide each animal with new enrichment. Every morning is like being a parent on Christmas. We set up toys, puzzles, and games and find new ways to hide food. We hope it works and that the animals like it. Our goal is to draw out natural behaviors so that they feel engaged and stay active. Every morning we give them toys, and just like children, they make a mess and then we clean it up; it’s a beautiful cycle.
I am most proud to be a part of an organization where the mission is the conservation and education of endangered species. Every animal in the Carnivore Department is listed between vulnerable to critically endangered. Zoo Atlanta is a nonprofit and is dependent on the people of Atlanta and our visitors and fans from around the U.S. and around the world. Many have worked hard to make it, in my opinion, the best zoo in the country. Today, Zoo Atlanta employees work all over the world to help secure safe habitats for wild animals. I am proud to be from Atlanta, and I’m proud of our Zoo. Thank you for making our Zoo what it is today. Thanks for reading, we hope to see you soon.
Swing Keeper, Mammals