National Zoo Keeper Week

In honor of National Zoo Keeper Week, we’d like to take some time to recognize all that our amazing zoo keepers do!

zoo keeper appreciation week

Many people probably think of zoo keepers as having the best, most fun job because they get to “play” with all the cool creatures in the zoo; in reality, their job is much more than that and requires lots of hard work!

Our keepers feed and care for all the animals (including hundreds of off-display animals) every single day of the year–even holidays!  This also includes cleaning up after them…and that can be a pretty messy job at times.  When they’re not caring for the animals, they’re showing them off to visitors in our Program Center, introducing them to people for special animal encounters in our exhibit gallery, or educating visitors about them throughout the zoo.  And let’s not forget about where the animals dwell: the exhibits themselves.  We do our best to keep all of our exhibit areas clean, neat, and looking good for our guests.  The staff responsible? Yup, you guessed it– ZOO KEEPERS.

Tending to the animals, exhibits areas, and visitors keeps them busy enough, but in addition to that, our zoo keepers also transport various animals for off-site lectures (assembly programs) for schools, clubs, camps, etc.  They present a 45-60 minute program with live animals, then trek back to the zoo to unload everything.  While we know they enjoy interacting with new people in new places on these little “field trips” away from the zoo, off-site lectures still involve a lot of work for our keepers.

Last but not least, our keepers travel (on a rotating basis) throughout North America to manage and maintain our various traveling exhibits.  For 6 weeks at a time they stay in an unfamiliar city, work 7 days a week, and care for the animals and exhibit while it’s on display at another institution.

Being a zoo keeper requires enthusiasm, patience, knowledge, and an unbelieveable work ethic; our keepers possess all of these traits and always fulfill their duties with a smile.  We’ve got a great team of zoo keepers here, and while we appreciate them year-round for their dedication, we’re happy to say a big THANK YOU to all of our keepers as a part of National Zoo Keeper Week!  “Keep” up the great work!

The 5 Best (or Worst) Zoo Escapes

Last Tuesday, news of the missing red panda named Rusty rocked Washington (and the rest of the country) when the raccoon-resembling mammal escaped from the National Zoo in D.C.  Twitter was ablaze with tweets from stuffy politicians to humble animal-lovers, all bearing the same “#redpanda” reference.  After hours of news coverage, social media frenzy, and the National Zoo’s frantic search, Rusty was eventually located and returned to his rightful home.

In honor of Rusty’s recent retreat, we put together a list of the 5 best (or worst) zoo escapes.  Our personal favorite is the last one, but we’ll let you be the judge.

San Diego Zoo

5.  Escape Artist Extraordinaire–  Ken Allen, nicknamed “Hairy Houdini,” was a seasoned pro at the art of escaping; starting in the 1980s, Ken successfully escaped numerous times from his enclosure.  His deft escapes were so clever (and frequent) that his orangutan friends eventually learned his tricks of the trade and began freeing themselves as well!  Because of this, Ken quickly gained notoriety and celebrity status in San Diego, complete with t-shirts, his own fan club, and bumper stickers that read, “Free Ken Allen.”

gothamist.com

gothamist.com

4.  The Long Island Takeover of 1935– Frank Buck, an exotic animal collector, had his own animal park on Long Island where 170 Rhesus monkeys escaped from in 1935.  A plank of wood was left over a moat surrounding their area, inciting their breakout; naturally, chaos ensued!  The local law enforcement received countless complaints of “monkey business” throughout the island with these creatures climbing on houses and causes minor (and harmless) disturbances.  As a token of his appreciation for anyone willing to help recapture the escapees, Buck offered a reward for the missing monkeys– a season pass to his zoo!  Read more here.

Mike Burton/The Advertiser

3. Australian Love Triangle– In 2008, Satara, a 2 ton, 18 year old rhino stormed out of his enclosure in a jealous rage when his mate Yhura “left him” for a younger male.*  Satara fathered Yhura’s first baby in 2005, but apparently wasn’t up for fathering a second, hence the pairing of Yhura with another (younger) male.  The heartbroken Satara eventually made his way back to his pen after his anger (and jealousy) had subsided later that afternoon, and thankfully, minimal damage was done to other enclosures within the zoo.  *According to reports by zoo keepers at the Monarto Zoo in Australia.  Read more details of the sordid affair here.

courtesy of Japan's Coast Guard

Japanese Coast Guard

2.  Sayonara, Suckers– Just last year, a one-year-old Humboldt penguin escaped from his harborside residence at the Tokyo Sea Life Park in Japan.  Keepers at the park went on daily searches, but were unsuccessful in tracking him down.  After three months, and several reported sightings of the flightless fugitive swimming happily in the Tokyo Bay, a keeper at the aquarium finally spotted him walking along the bay.  The brave little penguin was ultimately recaptured by the keeper, and despite fears of radiation contamination in the water, the penguin appeared to be happy and healthy upon his return to the park. Click here to read more about this penguin’s 3 month Tokyo Bay vacay!

Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

1.  The Reptilian Recluse– Last but not least, the infamous (and nameless) naughty little Egyptian cobra that escaped from an off-exhibit holding cage at the Bronx Zoo’s World of Reptiles.  Unclear of exactly how the sneaky snake got out, the World of Reptiles was closed while zoo staff searched for the venomous reptile.  According to Jim Breheny, Director, snakes are “shy, secretive creatures” and this one “would feel vulnerable and seek out a place to hide and feel safe” upon leaving her enclosure.  Fortunately, Mr. Breheny was absolutely correct; the 20 inch snake was discovered a week later in a nonpublic area of the Reptile House coiled up under a series of pipes and other equipment.  These days, you can catch her updating her twitter account on a regular basis @BronxZoosCobra (she’s got nearly 200,000 followers, too).  Find out more about how she was lost and found.

 

zoo keeper appreciation week

Behind-the-Scenes Tours

Behind-the-Scenes tours at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the zoo like never before. Have you ever wondered how our zoo keepers safely care for and clean up after venomous snakes and the training they must undergo in order to become confident enough to do so? Are you curious how they can work so closely with animals such as an adult American alligator? Have you ever wondered what a tiny poison dart frog might eat?

Many people often ask questions such as these during their visits to Reptiland, so several years ago we began offering Behind-the-Scenes Tours. This experience is specifically designed for the curious-natured visitor who values the one-on-one time with our dedicated zoo keeper staff. Tours are scheduled at a time that works for both parties; then it’s just you, a zoo keeper, and our off-display animals for a full 30 minutes!

You may not realize it, but Reptiland cares for several hundred animals in our off-display collection. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, we have a backup supply of animals in case one of the exhibited species has any sort of health issue; we can place another animal on display for our guests to view without ever having any habitats empty. Secondly, Reptiland owns and manages a fleet of traveling exhibitions that are rented out to museums, zoos, and science centers throughout North America. These exhibits include Reptiles: The Beautiful and the Deadly, two separate units of Frogs! A Chorus of Colors, and Geckos-Tails to Toepads. We also manage the husbandry of a fifth traveling exhibit, Lizards and Snakes Alive! which is owned by the American Museum of Natural History. Each of these traveling exhibits includes nearly 20 species of animals within the exhibit. Part of owning these exhibitions includes maintaining a backup collection of every animal that is on display within them. You can see how all these add up to make one very large animal collection!

behind-the-scenes toursVisitors who have scheduled a Behind-the-Scenes Tour over the past year have also been delighted by one other surprise – Komodo dragons! Until the completion of our Komodo dragon building sometime in the near future, these two reptiles are being raised in our off-display area under very special care. They are extremely curious and always very aware of any visitors who make their way into the Reptile room to take a look at them. *Update: the Island Giants exhibit featuring our Komodo dragons is now open!

With these tours, not only do you receive the opportunity to see these many reptiles and amphibians up close, but you also will learn about the venomous snake handling procedures, the dietary needs of our collection, and all that goes along with a career in animal care. And of course, our zoo keepers are more than happy to answer all your questions along the way. Behind-the-Scenes tours make a great experience for the animal lover, future herpetologist, or anyone who may be curious about our state-of-the-art animal care facilities. Visit our Behind-the-Scenes Tours page for more information.

Aldabra baby tortoises

Aldabra Tortoise Babies

Being a zoo keeper can be very exciting, especially when we get the chance to acquire and work with baby animals. We care for these young, vulnerable critters and take part in their growth and development into mature healthy adults. Some animals take longer than others to get to the adult stage such as the Aldabra tortoise babies that we just received from another AZA accredited institution. These two siblings were hatched in January 2011.

Aldabra tortoise babies

 

It may be 25 years before they are considered adults of breeding age, in contrast to some snake and lizard species that can hatch and grow to breeding age in a year’s time. Until the time these young animals are big enough to be housed with our current adult Aldabra tortoises, they will be kept separate and off-display where keepers can keep a close eye on their eating habits, give them an occasional soak, and record their weights over time. Within our large collection, we are currently raising two juvenile Komodo dragons, two common boa constrictors, Aldabra tortoises, frog-eyed geckos, Malaysian leaf frogs, and numerous species of poison dart frogs.