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Friday, October 17, 2014

Get Moving at the Zoo

Despite whatever issues their husbands campaign on, it's been traditional for the First Ladies of the United States to occupy themselves by working on an issue that they feel is important.  Lady Bird Johnson took up the cause of beautifying America, Laura Bush focused on literacy, and Betty Ford fought the stigma against alcoholism.  The current First Lady, Michelle Obama, followed this trend and decided to champion exercise and healthy eating with her "Let's Move!" campaign... and people lost their minds...

There has been a fair bit of backlash against Mrs. Obama's campaign - some of it delving into paranoid fantasies of Homeland Security agents raiding houses and confiscating cupcakes and sodas - probably a fair bit more than Mrs. Bush saw when she suggested that people turn off the TV and read more books.  part of it, simply, is that no one likes being told - or even suggested - what to do, especially about something as personal as diet and exercise.  That being said, I wonder if it's the reflection of a guilty conscious on the parts of many people.

When I walk around our modestly-sized, easily-walkable zoo, I can't help but notice... a lot of our guests are out of shape...

Zookeepers themselves tend to be a pretty svelte lot.  Sure, maybe part of that is we aren't paid enough to buy too much food... but the working environment has a lot to do with it as well.  Most job descriptions require applicants to be able to lift a certain amount of weight (usually 50 pounds, sometimes as much as 100), as well as spend the day standing, walking, crawling, ducking, climbing, and - on memorable occasions - running for your life.  We push heavy wheelbarrows full of wet bedding and poop.  We climb over fences and fake rock-work and up trees.  We carry heavy bags of feed.  And except for lunch, we are always on our feet.

Of course, the physical workload varies by keeper-type.  Hoofstock keepers tend to be the buffest, from my experience - more walking, more carrying heavy objects, more rake-and-shovel bicep building.  In contrast, an aquarist might have to do heavy lifting very infrequently (though mixing that fake seawater can mean toting some heavy bags of salt), but might stay flexible and fit by weaving her way through the torturous behind-the-scenes crawl spaces that seem to make up the keeper area of every aquarium I've ever been to.  Keepers at a big, sprawling zoo might make more use of a truck or golf-cart than keepers at a small one, who tend to walk everywhere.

A big part of the equation, of course, is that zookeepers and aquarists love animals, and that tends to keep them outdoors.  Many of the keepers I know love to hike and camp.  Reptile and amphibian keepers especially love to go "herping" - trekking in search of the animals they love.  Plus, we tend to be young and there is the whole youthful metabolism going on... which is fortunate, because many of the zookeepers I know could out-eat three normal people with half their stomach tied behind their back.

So it's not the keepers that we really have to worry about as part of the whole fitness and wellness issue... it's the guests.

Of course, walking around the zoo is good exercise, but a slow, leisurely stroll only gets you so far.  That got me thinking, there had to be some ways to make going to the zoo a more physically beneficial experience for visitors... something fun, healthy, and with an educational, interactive element.  In tomorrow's post, I'm going to share some of those ideas - if you work at a zoo or aquarium, you have my blessing to steal them.  If you're a frequent visitor, take it as an invitation to put a new spin on your next visit - ways that you and your friends or family can get even more out of the trip.

Done right, a trip to the zoo can be good for the mind and good for the spirit.  With a little extra work, it can also be even better for the body.

As King Julian would say, "Move It, Move It!"

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