I decided to try and volunteer with some of the various keepers in the zoo because, even though I knew I loved interpreting, I had never had any keeping experience so I could not say for sure that I never wanted to be a keeper. That being said, I was pretty sure that I didn't want to be a keeper; after all, it's just cleaning up animal homes all day, right?
Boy was I wrong!
Yes, it was a lot of cleaning. But it ended up being really fun! The head keeper, Paul Reinhart, was very nice and welcoming and wasn't shy about setting me to work! But he also let me do some really great other things, as well. But more of that later!
So the day started out reeeeeally early - as in, I had to be at the zoo at 7 am!!! I was a little sleepy at first, but I was so excited to begin that I perked right up pretty quickly! For the first several hours of the day I helped to clean out the animal enclosures. This meant a combination of raking, shoveling, and then hosing down the area. I should have known right away that this was going to be a great day - when I was in the camel yard helping to clean up the front area, Humphrey, our male bactrian camel that is known to spit, came right up to me and nuzzled me right on my face to say hello! It was really sweet, and it sure surprised me! Paul said that that was a good sign that I was a good person! Phew!
That morning I also helped clean the Przewalski's horse areas and some other hoof stock areas. Paul showed me their Tolkken (Takken? Taalken? I have no idea how to spell or pronounce them!) which looked kind of like water buffalo to me, only from Asia. Anyways, he thinks the female is pretty heavily pregnant and that she is due any time! How exciting! He told me to keep in touch with him, and he'd let me know about any babies!
From there, we went to the Red Panda exhibit to clean up their outdoor area. They are so cute! But more about pandas later....
After lunch I got to be on the camel side of the camel feedings that occur at 1. Usually I am on the outside, handing people the biscuits that are fed to Saari. Today I got to hold her lead up front and bring her back inside! I was really surprised that he gave it to me at first, but she knew what to do - I didn't have to really do anything!
Once we were done with the camel feeding, I went to go visit Haratan, our sumatran rhino. Apparently he genuinely loves people! He came right over to the bars where we were standing outside of his holding area, and let me pet him right on his nose and on his side! I never would have guessed that I would have been touching a rhino today!!
Now to what I think was the most exciting and most amazing part of my day shadowing the Wildlife Canyon keepers. It was time for the Red Panda chat, where the keeper goes in with the red pandas and talks about them to guests. While we were in there and Paul was doing the talking, I got to hand feed one of our males, Rover, apples!!! I couldn't believe it! It was such an amazing experience; they're so cute! It took all of my willpower to not reach out to touch him!
Then, once the feeding was done, we went inside the indoor area for the pandas to visit our two pregnant females. They sure had a comfy home! Paul was telling me that red pandas are born with fur and are relatively large, much different from giant pandas.
Then, before I knew it, it was time to go home! Time really flew today; I never got bored, because I was always working! I definitely have blisters on my hands and feet, but it was well worth it. It amazed me how much I enjoyed helping take care of the animals, even though most of what I did was cleaning. Somehow, those small interactions I got with our different animals made it all worth it and made my day. I can see why keepers love their jobs! Who would have thought I would now be considering becoming a zoo keeper?! I think I will definitely keep in contact with Paul, and maybe volunteer some more if I can! I really fell in love with the animals of Wildlife Canyon!
Time to hit the hay, because I'm bushed!