We here at the zoo are often reminded of what a privilege it is to work with the animals in our care. No matter what department we work in, we are all given the opportunity to get to know our residents and interact with them. How amazing it is that we can take our lunch break and watch the otters play or the brown bears eat? What an honor it is to watch polar bear training or witness a vet procedure on a snow leopard. How lucky am I to be able to bring Korbel, our double yellow headed parrot, into the marketing office for a chat?
Some of the most fortunate staff members, of course, are our zoo keepers who work with these animals and enrich their lives on a daily basis. All staff hold our keepers in high regard and secretly (or not so secretly) wish we could be just like them!
During our recent snowstorm, we had a brief opportunity to help the keepers and guess what? I quickly decided I didn’t want to be just like them! Those who could make it into the zoo braved 40 to 50 mile-an-hour winds and heavy, wet snow to feed the animals their diets, check on their welfare and shovel snow from the exhibits. When your job is to care for animals, there’s no such thing as a snow day. After all, brown bears and tigers need to eat!
After about 20 minutes of shoveling the barnyard I realized why zoo keepers don’t wear mascara (can you say raccoon face?) and why they dress like Inuits. While many of us imagine their lives to be quite glamorous and exotic, the truth is they work very hard in some pretty tough conditions. Slinging bales of hay, filling icy water bowls and trying to open frozen locks is not for sissies. Remarkably, our keepers carry out these tasks with smiles on their faces and a delightful willingness to help one another.
I can’t tell you how many times during the blizzard I heard cheerful radio chatter from keepers and grounds crew. “I’ll be right there.” “Does anyone need any help?” I was impressed with both their teamwork skills and their hardiness.
Today I am back in my 68-degree office, donning mascara and lipstick, sore from my brief stint of shoveling and armed with even more admiration for our animal care team. While National Zoo Keeper Week takes place in the much balmier month of July (July 19 – 25) it’s worth remembering to thank these dedicated individuals year-round!