“The usual: peanuts, bran, bananas, 200 pounds of cabbage.”
“How about pulling back on some of that cabbage and bran? Zuzu just did a doo-doo that’s gonna take an hour to clean up.”
It all started with five little words: “Daddy, I want a doggie.” Then it became a lifelong passion. The neighborhood kids joked that all of your friends had four legs, stray cats showed up at your door looking for a place to stay, and your backyard looked like a wildlife preserve. Your part time job in high school was at the ASPCA, and you spent your weekends strolling through the zoo. The zoo staff all knew your name and would sometimes even kept the gates open a little late so you could catch one more glimpse of the animals before heading home. Then, one memorable night, the director of the zoo came up to you and asked, “How would you like a job emptying the garbage cans here?” And so began your journey from pet owner, to zoo custodian, to zookeeper.
A zookeeper is like being a babysitter; only every “baby” needs a different diet and climate to stay healthy. It’s not just diapers, milk, and a temperate 70 degrees Fahrenheit. And these babies don’t get picked up by their parents after work. Zookeepers are the parent, nanny, doctor, dietician, teacher, and fitness instructor for everything from spiders to elephants. Along with your colleagues, you will make life comfortable for animals that are not necessarily used to living in behind bars in the middle of a city.
You are not just limited to land creatures. Aquarists are zookeepers for animals that live under water. Make sure you are SCUBA certified and ready to dive. Get your wetsuit ready, take a deep breath, and prepare to oversee (oversea?) your bubble blowing friends.
Animals don’t take days off, so you have to be flexible and ready to get to the “office” at a moment’s notice. Tickles the Panda is having cubs and she doesn’t care that it is 2 am. Jojo the Giraffe doesn’t care that it’s Thursday night and you want to get home to watch Vampire Diaries. He is sick and you have to care of him.
You got into this career because you are passionate about animals the way accountants are passionate about counting money and cartographers are passionate about making maps. You would be hanging out with wild animals even if you weren’t getting paid for it, so being part of a zoo staff is icing on the cake.
The life of a zookeeper is tough. You will be working in all weather conditions at all hours. You will be present for the beautiful moments and the sad ones…unfortunately, not all animals live as long as George. You will also be working tirelessly to save animals from extinction. You are the voice for species that lack the ability to speak for themselves. You will have human contact even though you spend your days with exotic creatures. Networking with zookeepers all over the country will ensure that you remember how to interact with Homo sapiens, and it can hook you up with some sweet work-related road trips!
The gorilla threw poo at you… so what? The elephant decided to relive herself while you were hosing her down… so what? You fell, face down, in a pile tiger dung right after lunch… so what? This is your job. You were born to be a zoo whisperer. Just take off your shoes before you enter your house.