by Zookeeper, Lizzy Johnson
Over the last three years as a zookeeper, people who meet me seem to have two different reactions when they hear of my profession. Many people exclaim “How cool! You get to play with animals all day!” all the rest give me a disgusted look and say “So you clean up poop all day?” Although a large portion of a zookeeper’s day is devoted to keeping the animals exhibits clean and enriching their lives, another large portion of being a zookeeper is research and learning.
The Lake Superior Zoo currently houses many different species of animals. Each zookeeper has a particular area and group of species they work with and they are expected to know as much as they can about each one. They are the zoo’s “experts” in their species. The world is far from knowing everything about animals and research is being done all around whether at zoos, schools, or other organizations. One of the great things about working in the animal field is that most everyone’s main priority is the well-being of the animals they work with. This means that as new discoveries are made the researchers are thrilled to share the information they’ve learned with anyone who will listen. The more information is shared, the higher the quality of care that can be given to the animals.
One group of animals that I work closely with are the zoo’s birds. We currently have 15 different species of birds ranging from parrots to raptors to pheasants. To stay up-to-date on all the new ways to give the best care for birds I joined the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators. Recently, I was fortunate enough to represent the Lake Superior Zoo at this organization’s annual conference, which the Minnesota Zoo hosted. Bird enthusiasts from all over the world came together to share their research. One conference presenter, Chad Crittle, came from the Cairns Tropical Zoo in Australia and was more than a little shocked by our Minnesota weather.
During the four-day conference papers were presented on a range of topics that can be useful to anyone working with our avian friends. New enrichment options were discussed, such as a toilet paper perch which serves as a place for the bird to sit and a toy to tear apart (Laura Freeman, The Raptor Center). Michael Billington from The Raptor Center shared with us the newest discoveries in raptor vision; did you know that eagles can see three times better than humans? Even Steve Martin, a bird trainer for more than 30 years, came to share his newest training techniques and to learn from ours.
Being a part of such a knowledgeable community is invaluable. As I mentioned before the zoo has 15 different species of birds and it would be impossible for me to know everything there is to know about each one. By being an active part of this community I am always one phone call away from talking to someone who does know all the answers and is happy to share them with the Lake Superior Zoo!