Zookeeping is a wonderful job. It's also a hard one. It can be challenging physically, especially in brutal weather or hostile conditions. It can be challenging mentally, whether it's absorbing information on your animals or solving bizarre problems that no one else has to deal with. It can also be draining emotionally.
When a high-profile animal dies, zookeepers often find themselves and their institutions the subject of abuse from animal rights activists; I don't presume to know how zoo animals feel, but I would take a pretty dim view, personally, of anyone who tried to make political hay out of my death. They also find themselves having to comfort the public, especially in the case of beloved animal celebrities. What few people realize, however, is how deeply keepers and other caretakers themselves may mourn.
Caring for any sentient being involves emotional attachment, and zookeeping is no different. I've seen plenty of keepers cry at the loss of a favorite animal, sometimes beating themselves up, wondering if there was more they could have done. What makes it harder isn't just that you're in the public eye, it's that you can't just mourn in peace. Your other animals are still depending on you. You need to get back to work.
Oklahoma City Zoo veterinarian Jennifer D'Agostino watches a North American river otter in Oklahoma City, Wednesday November, 18 2015. Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman