"“Those of us who have chosen a life with animals know we have chosen well. Having a conversation with a lion is a fine way to start one’s day. For that matter, so is tossing tidbits to a toucan, or medicating a cobra. There’s something there, in the lion’s luminous eyes, in the gaudy splendor of the toucan, in the cobra’s sibilant protests: it’s magic. It’s the stuff of fairy tales to interact with animals like these, even in a scientific setting, and in spite of repetitious, routine chores. You should envy us, for we are the most fortunate of humans—we take care of the animals at the zoo.”
- Dana Payne, Woodland Park Zoo
Happy National Zookeeper Week!
This week, we celebrate the zookeepers (and aquarists) who make our institutions work. They are the ones who come in every day - even Christmas, even Thanksgiving - to care for the animals as their facilities. They brave scorching heat and freezing winter, working through heat waves and hurricanes alike. They prepare diets of every description imaginable. They provide enrichment to keep animals physically and mentally healthy. And, of course, they scoop mountains of poop.
Being a zookeeper has its challenges and its rewards. They welcome new animals into the world, and watch as old, beloved ones leave it. They share their passion for wildlife with visitors of all ages... and deal with some of the less savory elements of the public. They work all hours, do the impossible in the service of their animals, and then limp home with a baffling variety of injuries. They aren't motivated by money (although some more would be nice...) or by glory (though of course we are all awesome), but by the simple desire to do their job as well as possible and provide their animals with the best of care.
Next time you visit a zoo or aquarium, try to take a moment to greet a keeper, maybe ask a question or two, and thank them for their hard work in keeping the place going and the animals cared for. We appreciate it! That being said, the job is also its own reward... I never wanted another one.