July 20, 2018
8 to 5…and Then Some
- as seen by -Denise McClean
Managing live animals in a zoo or aquarium requires the skills of a collective group of curators, managers, keepers, aquarists, and veterinarians. While each provides unique expertise about animals, breeding programs, and other scientific work, our keepers and aquarists are the professionals responsible for the day-to-day care of the animals that inspire our guests every day (above, a Hamadryas baboon at Prospect Park Zoo.)
Every zoo and aquarium has a cadre of dedicated, hardworking people who go beyond the intensely physical tasks necessary to tend a range of animals from tiny frogs to giant giraffes. Keen observation skills are needed as well as a collective memory. Was that tufted deer limping yesterday? Is that mother gorilla nursing her baby regularly? Has the sea lion’s weight changed significantly? Keepers record detailed notes in daily reports on hundreds of animals to ensure that their colleagues — other keepers, veterinarians, and curators — are clued in to anything that might affect the health and well being of each individual animal. Further, they are key participants in our collaborative breeding and conservation programs to ensure a future for thousands of species.
While everyone thinks it would be fun to nurture baby animals, it’s important to remember that keepers and aquarists care for animals throughout their lives and experience both emotional highs and lows. While it’s exhilarating when new animals are born or hatched, keepers also provide for animals at the end of their lives. They shepherd animals through medical treatments, make adjustments in exhibits to help animals navigate more easily, and monitor each animal’s ability to do things they enjoy.
Identifying pain in animals whose survival skills depend on hiding any illness isn’t easy and ensuring compliance with medications often takes patience and creativity (fun fact: baboons love children’s flavored Ibuprofen.) Keepers also work with other colleagues to ensure a dignified, peaceful passing at each animal’s end of life.
Keepers and aquarists have challenging jobs but ensuring the welfare for animals can be deeply satisfying. We take a moment this week to salute these professionals as we celebrate National Zookeeper Week.