Don’t Count Us Out

There’s really nothing worse than having your family and friends question what you want to do with your life. Well for the last five years, that’s exactly what I’ve gotten. Don’t get me wrong, my closest family and friends support me, even if they don’t understand, but most people give me a weird look or fake interest when I tell them that I want to work in zoos. I feel like most people in my field get this same response. I mean, everyone is just looking out for us right? They want us to be in a job that’s fulfilling and respected. Well let’s just get one thing straight: being a zoo keeper is a very worthwhile job. This is not a political piece, I’m not looking to discuss the controversy of animals in captivity, all I aim to do to shed some light on a job that does not get enough credit. I understand, zoos were not always the best in terms of how well animals were kept and being a zoo keeper used to not require a college education but times have seriously changed. First off, zoo keepers need to get a bachelors. That’s right, 4 years. And while we’re not taking astrophysics, we are taking some challenging classes. We’re in anat and phys, we’re in path and disease, organic chemistry, not to mention mammalogy. We work really hard while we’re in school and we are so passionate about what we want to do, which is lacking in a lot of college students these days. But college is just the tip of the iceberg. What a lot of people don’t know is that it is almost impossible to get a full time job right out of college. While being a full time student for four years, we have to have multiple internships. Experience, experience, experience. That’s all that matters, the more varied internships you can cram into four years, and even then getting a job is slim. Once out of college, we have to continue to intern, mostly unpaid or work part time or work in the education department just to get our feet in the door. After a few years of doing this, the blessed time comes when we finally get full time! Now if all of this isn’t enough to prove that zoo keepers work hard, consider this; animals need care 365 days of the year. That means that we’re there Christmas morning, New Years, and Thanksgiving not to mention working weekends and birthdays all from 7:30-4:30. And while we work, we aren’t just scooping poop and petting animals. Yes, cleaning is a big part of the job, but we do so much more than that. In small institutions especially, keepers wear so many hats. You could be in charge of making diets, which all have to have nutrients comparable to what the animal would get in the wild. You could be doing maintenance, fixing fences and areas in the exhibit so the animals can’t injure themselves or escape. Some keepers have to be record keepers, keeping track of how many animals the zoo has. But most importantly (at least to me) is being the eyes and ears for the vet. Zoo keepers know their animals better than anyone else and it is important for them to know when an animal is acting strangely so the vet can check it out. Without us, a lot of ailments might go unnoticed. Even though the work is hard, we love what we do. I’m convinced that you’ll never find another group of people that loves their job as much as zoo keepers, regardless of the hard work and hours that go into it. At the end of the day, we’re forming bonds with animals and gaining trust. They trust us to take care of them every day and work as hard as we can to give them a good life. Long rant aside, don’t count us out. We love what we do and we love the animals we care for. So next time someone tells you they want to work in a zoo, just remember this and try to learn more about it.

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