My last week at MZIB was a good week, if somewhat sad. I spent my time at the farmyard, and of course in the antelope and warthog run. The keepers and I did our normal routine, cleaning, feeding, cleaning, enrichment, more feeding, extras, and shifting of animals. I finished up my enrichment project with Ray Ray, which involved writing up my findings about what did and did not work with him and recording what I thought would be good for future enrichment for the rest of the addra gazelle.
This week we had to be extra careful while shifting in our Guineas because Fat Tony has been lagging behind the others and panting heavily during shifting. This of course worried us so the vets came down and checked him over and sure enough it turns out that poor Fat Tony has pneumonia. He was put on antibiotics and is hopefully on his way to a full recovery, however, he is an old man, at 17 years of age. The antibodies did seem to be working though, as his panting has greatly reduced and he is keeping up with the other guineas. He also seems to be getting lost in the tall grass less frequently.
The warthog piglets are continually growing. Their diets are so large that we need not one but two buckets of fresh produce on order to keep them healthy, with the addition of two heads of lettuce, four flakes of hay, and 3.5 pounds of ADF/minipig grain. They are now at sexual maturity and in addition to all the other tasks that we needed to preform we had to be constantly checking to see if male piglet was attempting to mate his sisters. At the first sign of any attempts he will need to be separated from his sisters.
Even though it seems as though keepers come in everyday and do the same things over and over and over again (clean, prepare diets, feed, shift, clean again, train) I have noticed throughout my stay here at MZIB that no day at the zoo is ever the same as the day before. Things break, animals get sick, animals get lose, equipment goes missing or refuses to work, coworkers call in sick, animals refuse to cooperate, and thing all around seem determined to set you back and mess with your normal routine. You have to be able to make quick decisions and think on your feet. Pay attention to detail and be organized. Your time management skills have to be impeccable. If you are running behind, you have to be able to prioritize. You need to be able to read animals, and more importantly, you need to understand and remember that they are not your friends. You may love them, and they may think fondly of the person they associate with food, but they are wild and still dangerous. And more importantly... they associate you with food. You equal food. Think that one through.
Most importantly though, you have to love what you are doing. Being a zoo keeper is a hard, thankless task. It's scooping poop, scrubbing buckets, getting hay in places hay should never be, cutting countless fruit and veggies, picking up guts leftover from carnivore diets, staying late because your animals won't shift, lifting 50 pounds or more on a regular basis, spending lunch on call, constantly worrying about your locks and your animals... and training. Seeing your guys enjoying an enrichment item. Watching a calf, cub, kit or pup take it's first step. See it's first tree. Frolic on exhibit. Hearing the children's excitement as, for the first time, they see a dik dik or warthog, kudu or cheetah, lion or stork.
It's a thankless, smelly, difficult job. But if you love it, it's worth every little hardship and worry. And to those of us in this field... it is more than worth it. The animals may never thank us, but it doesn't matter because of our passion for the conservation and preservation of the diversity of the wildlife on this earth.