My second official day at the Zoo I was placed in the Giraffe House, as expected, and the day was spent cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. Some people may be a little surprised by the fact that 85 percent of a Keepers job is not playing with and cuddling the animals, but cleaning up after them. Which means that keepers are washing dishes, scrubbing stalls and toys, and yes, shoveling poo. most people would be surprised to hear also that the remaining 15 percent of a Keepers job is diet preparation, medicine distribution, paperwork, training, and observation. And that none of the work a Keeper performs is animal cuddling.
Of course, this means that so far my internship has involved an awful lot of cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. However, all of it is made worthwhile by the small brief glimpses of training that I am able to see. For example, I have watched Angel, a 15 year old giraffe, be trained to stand still as medicine was applied to her knee and arthritic ankle. I have watched as the warthogs are trained to shift from exhibit to holding pen, and I have watched as Caesar, the 5 year old male giraffe was trained to shift from outside to inside (the new lights at the gate leading in seem to really weird him out, making him forget all his previous training...).
It is exciting to see the training methods taught to us in school by our amazing Professor Sarah Cunningham actually applied in a captive wildlife setting. There is a big difference in watching a dog or cat be trained using operant conditioning and watching a giraffe respond eagerly to the same training.