Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.
 

Any elephant keepers out there?

Expand Messages
  • tricon7@yahoo.com
    Hi. I m about to start as an elephant keeper at a zoo soon, and I would appreciate any advice from existing elephant keepers (or former keepers) on starting
    Message 1 of 17 , Apr 5 9:42 PM
      Hi. I'm about to start as an elephant keeper at a zoo soon, and I
      would appreciate any advice from existing elephant keepers (or former
      keepers) on starting out. Although I've been a zookeeper for two
      years now, I've never worked with elephants, and I'm looking forward
      to the experience.
    • Gene
      Yep Im an elephant keeper. Been doing it for about 8 years and in zoos since 89. Email me and we can talk more bgpeacock@hotmail.com ... former ... forward
      Message 2 of 17 , Apr 14 7:36 PM
        Yep Im an elephant keeper. Been doing it for about 8 years and in
        zoos since 89. Email me and we can talk more
        bgpeacock@...



        --- In zookeeper@y..., tricon7@y... wrote:
        > Hi. I'm about to start as an elephant keeper at a zoo soon, and I
        > would appreciate any advice from existing elephant keepers (or
        former
        > keepers) on starting out. Although I've been a zookeeper for two
        > years now, I've never worked with elephants, and I'm looking
        forward
        > to the experience.
      • Gene
        Well my first bit of advice, listen to whoever trains you with elephants. Hopefully somebody at the zoo you re at has experience. If so follow their lead and
        Message 3 of 17 , Apr 14 7:38 PM
          Well my first bit of advice, listen to whoever trains you with
          elephants. Hopefully somebody at the zoo you're at has experience. If
          so follow their lead and soak it all in. Elephants are great animals
          and different than working in other areas. But free or PC it is a
          challenge. Good luck and have fun~!
        • paul juniper
          Dear list members, Below are a few words of advice for any new or potential elephant keepers out there. I have only limited experience, and there are many
          Message 4 of 17 , Apr 15 5:04 AM
            Dear list members,

            Below are a few words of advice for any new or
            potential elephant keepers out there. I have only
            limited experience, and there are many handlers much
            better qualified to give advice than myself, but
            having lost two colleagues in the last 14 months to
            incidents involving elephants attacking handlers I
            feel that a few words of caution are allowable.
            Working with elephants is a truly unique experience,
            but you should always remember that it can be
            extremely dangerous. Elephants are highly
            intelligent, powerful and emotional animals that need
            to be treated with the upmost respect. I can offer a
            few of the pros and cons of PC vs FC elephant
            handling, but sound training by experienced staff is
            the only way to learn in my opinion.

            When it comes to the question of protected contact you
            will find that this is a very personal issue amongst
            elephant men. I have worked with elephants in both
            protected contact and free contact at Port Lympne Wild
            animal Park in Kent, and briefly at Chester zoo in the
            North of England, and would gladly opt for the latter
            in most cases. In my opinion free contact systems make
            it much easier to build up a close working
            relationship with an elephant. The daily interactions
            that take place such as footcare, bathing and simply
            being close to each other help to cement a genuine
            rapport between man and beast that is quite unique.
            The keeper is effectively slotting him/herself into
            the dynamic of the herd. This benefits the elephant as
            the relationship can provide psychological
            stimulation, as
            well as increasing the ease of health care and
            physical maintenance of the animal. In protected
            contact the presence of a physical barrier makes this
            process all but impossible.

            However, in the case of adult bull elephants (which
            undergo unpredictable periods known as 'musth' where
            they become extremely aggressive), PC is probably the
            only safe method of husbandry. This also applies to
            unpredictable female elephants.

            In the UK, Howletts operates a PC system with its
            African elephants, and this has proved most
            successful. This is the best breeding group in the UK
            with at least 6 calves born there in recent years (to
            my knowledge).

            At Chester zoo, a free contact system is employed, and
            here they are experiencing great breeding success with
            their Asian elephants following the recent births of
            two bull calves.

            There are arguments for both systems, and both can
            clearly work, so it will probably boil down
            to health and safety risk assessments in the long term
            as to which prevails in the UK. At present most zoos
            employ free contact for cows and protected contact for
            bulls, but this may change in the future.

            Hope this was of some help,

            All the best, and good luck with your chosen career,

            Paul (Flamingoland UK).


            ____________________________________________________________
            Do You Yahoo!?
            Get your free @... address at http://mail.yahoo.co.uk
            or your free @... address at http://mail.yahoo.ie
          • dogman1014@aol.com
            yees
            Message 5 of 17 , Apr 15 10:30 AM
              yees
            • Jay
              I think it s important to bear in mind that the same skill-set is required to work with elephants in any milleu. Protected or confined contact is not a
              Message 6 of 17 , Apr 15 5:59 PM
                I think it's important to bear in mind that the same skill-set is required
                to work with elephants in any milleu. Protected or confined contact is not
                a panacea; in point of fact, it take longer to get a particular job done
                than would be the case in free contact. Having 17 years of experience in
                all venues, I feel obligated to note that pc and cc require the skills
                needed to work successfully in an fc environment.

                Best regards,

                Jay

                > -----Original Message-----
                > From: paul juniper [mailto:p_juniper@...]
                > Sent: Sunday, April 15, 2001 5:05 AM
                > To: zookeeper@yahoogroups.com
                > Subject: Re: [zookeeper] Re: Any elephant keepers out there?
                >
                >
                > Dear list members,
                >
                > Below are a few words of advice for any new or
                > potential elephant keepers out there. I have only
                > limited experience, and there are many handlers much
                > better qualified to give advice than myself, but
                > having lost two colleagues in the last 14 months to
                > incidents involving elephants attacking handlers I
                > feel that a few words of caution are allowable.
                > Working with elephants is a truly unique experience,
                > but you should always remember that it can be
                > extremely dangerous. Elephants are highly
                > intelligent, powerful and emotional animals that need
                > to be treated with the upmost respect. I can offer a
                > few of the pros and cons of PC vs FC elephant
                > handling, but sound training by experienced staff is
                > the only way to learn in my opinion.
              • tricon7@yahoo.com
                Sorry I m so late in getting back. I ve had to relocate almost a thousand miles for this zoo job since I last posted, and I ve had to set up in a new city.
                Message 7 of 17 , Apr 25 3:16 PM
                  Sorry I'm so late in getting back. I've had to relocate almost a
                  thousand miles for this zoo job since I last posted, and I've had to
                  set up in a new city.
                  I've found out that unlike most animals I've worked with previously
                  in zoos, an elephant keeper - a new keeper, especially - can't
                  just "baby talk" to an elephant like they can to other animals. One
                  must first establish "consequences" behavior with the elephant in
                  order to get them to learn to obey your commands (as I've been told).
                  I guess it's because of their intelligence that one has to inbibe in
                  this protocol. It kind of takes away from the fun in working with
                  them, at least in the short term. I hope that once they've accepted
                  me, that I can talk freely to them.
                  In any event,we have six elephants at our zoo. What about you? Have
                  you had any "close calls" with any of yours in your work career?
                  Thanks.

                  --- In zookeeper@y..., " Gene" <B.Peacock@u...> wrote:
                  > Well my first bit of advice, listen to whoever trains you with
                  > elephants. Hopefully somebody at the zoo you're at has experience.
                  If
                  > so follow their lead and soak it all in. Elephants are great
                  animals
                  > and different than working in other areas. But free or PC it is a
                  > challenge. Good luck and have fun~!
                • Gene
                  Well from what you described that sounds pretty much standard when starting to work around any new elephant, experienced or not. It is essential to build up
                  Message 8 of 17 , Apr 25 4:58 PM
                    Well from what you described that sounds pretty much standard when
                    starting to work around any new elephant, experienced or not. It is
                    essential to build up the relationship with the animals so it is safe
                    for all involved. Just listen to who is training you and follow their
                    lead. It should get better in a few months. Once you get some
                    experience with elephanst under your belt you will love them.

                    Where I am now we have 3 very good elephanst no real problems at all.
                    I have worked with some tough ones in the past. But every situation
                    is different. Good luck with the new job and keep me posted.
                  • Jay
                    If this is a free-contact environment, you stand a good chance of being seriously injured or killed within two years. My bet would be within one year. People
                    Message 9 of 17 , Apr 25 5:20 PM
                      If this is a free-contact environment, you stand a good chance of being
                      seriously injured or killed within two years. My bet would be within one
                      year. People rarely change their attitudes, and yours is incompatible with
                      successful elephant management. I base my assessment on having spent nearly
                      two decades working with bulls, cows, and calves in free-contact,
                      protected-contact, and confined-contact modalities. It is not a statement I
                      make lightly. For your own safety, I strongly urge you to attend Riddle's
                      elephant management school at your earliest opportunity. Classes are
                      generally held in May, and I believe it's a two-week course.

                      For a number of years, I assumed that if I could work with elephants, then
                      anybody could. I couldn't have been more wrong, as I found out when we
                      brought in a couple of people with a tremendous desire to work with
                      elephants -- but had absolutely no business being around them.

                      Baby talk? Give me a break!

                      Establish consequences? Oh, sure. There are only two things you can make
                      an elephant do: run away, or kill you.

                      If you can't get inside their heads; understand them, you're doomed. And
                      what I get from you here is that you just want to have fun. You're not in
                      it for them; you're in it for you. You want a nice warm and fuzzy feeling.
                      Run, do not walk, to the nearest clutch of bunny rabbits you can find.

                      I know you'll find the above objectionable, but tough. I'm being brutally
                      honest for your good, for the good of the elephants, and for the good of the
                      organization that hired you. If you've followed this list any length of
                      time, you'll find that I rarely intrude. I make exceptions in matters of
                      life and death that involve my particular area of experience.

                      Jay Haight

                      > -----Original Message-----
                      > From: tricon7@... [mailto:tricon7@...]
                      > Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 3:17 PM
                      > To: zookeeper@yahoogroups.com
                      > Subject: [zookeeper] Starting as a keeper
                      >
                      > I've found out that unlike most animals I've worked with previously
                      > in zoos, an elephant keeper - a new keeper, especially - can't
                      > just "baby talk" to an elephant like they can to other animals. One
                      > must first establish "consequences" behavior with the elephant in
                      > order to get them to learn to obey your commands (as I've been told).
                      > I guess it's because of their intelligence that one has to inbibe in
                      > this protocol. It kind of takes away from the fun in working with
                      > them, at least in the short term. I hope that once they've accepted
                      > me, that I can talk freely to them.
                      >
                    • jennifer london
                      Wow................. that was rather harsh. ... From: Jay To: Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 7:20 PM
                      Message 10 of 17 , Apr 25 6:09 PM
                        Wow................. that was rather harsh.


                        ----- Original Message -----
                        From: Jay <pachyman@...>
                        To: <zookeeper@yahoogroups.com>
                        Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 7:20 PM
                        Subject: RE: [zookeeper] Starting as a keeper


                        > If this is a free-contact environment, you stand a good chance of being
                        > seriously injured or killed within two years. My bet would be within one
                        > year. People rarely change their attitudes, and yours is incompatible
                        with
                        > successful elephant management. I base my assessment on having spent
                        nearly
                        > two decades working with bulls, cows, and calves in free-contact,
                        > protected-contact, and confined-contact modalities. It is not a statement
                        I
                        > make lightly. For your own safety, I strongly urge you to attend Riddle's
                        > elephant management school at your earliest opportunity. Classes are
                        > generally held in May, and I believe it's a two-week course.
                        >
                        > For a number of years, I assumed that if I could work with elephants, then
                        > anybody could. I couldn't have been more wrong, as I found out when we
                        > brought in a couple of people with a tremendous desire to work with
                        > elephants -- but had absolutely no business being around them.
                        >
                        > Baby talk? Give me a break!
                        >
                        > Establish consequences? Oh, sure. There are only two things you can make
                        > an elephant do: run away, or kill you.
                        >
                        > If you can't get inside their heads; understand them, you're doomed. And
                        > what I get from you here is that you just want to have fun. You're not in
                        > it for them; you're in it for you. You want a nice warm and fuzzy
                        feeling.
                        > Run, do not walk, to the nearest clutch of bunny rabbits you can find.
                        >
                        > I know you'll find the above objectionable, but tough. I'm being brutally
                        > honest for your good, for the good of the elephants, and for the good of
                        the
                        > organization that hired you. If you've followed this list any length of
                        > time, you'll find that I rarely intrude. I make exceptions in matters of
                        > life and death that involve my particular area of experience.
                        >
                        > Jay Haight
                        >
                        > > -----Original Message-----
                        > > From: tricon7@... [mailto:tricon7@...]
                        > > Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 3:17 PM
                        > > To: zookeeper@yahoogroups.com
                        > > Subject: [zookeeper] Starting as a keeper
                        > >
                        > > I've found out that unlike most animals I've worked with previously
                        > > in zoos, an elephant keeper - a new keeper, especially - can't
                        > > just "baby talk" to an elephant like they can to other animals. One
                        > > must first establish "consequences" behavior with the elephant in
                        > > order to get them to learn to obey your commands (as I've been told).
                        > > I guess it's because of their intelligence that one has to inbibe in
                        > > this protocol. It kind of takes away from the fun in working with
                        > > them, at least in the short term. I hope that once they've accepted
                        > > me, that I can talk freely to them.
                        > >
                        >
                        >
                        > Sharing knowledge so that animals may benefit from better care.
                        >
                        > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
                        >
                        >
                        >
                      • beringeikl@aol.com
                        This occupation has lost to many people to over grown egos. It does not matter if you are working with elephants or hamsters. The animals should be viewed as
                        Message 11 of 17 , Apr 25 6:45 PM
                          This occupation has lost to many people to over grown egos. It does not
                          matter if you are working with elephants or hamsters. The animals should be
                          viewed as your coworkers not as adversaries.
                          I also have over two decades experience in this profession. Please change
                          your attitude or reevaluate your career.
                                                            Debbie McGuire
                        • Natalie M Lindholm
                          Harsh, but I applaud Jay for saying what he feels. I don t work elephants, but can relate to the feeling that maybe one is in it for the fun of it and isn t
                          Message 12 of 17 , Apr 25 9:30 PM
                            Harsh, but I applaud Jay for saying what he feels. I don't work
                            elephants, but can relate to the feeling that maybe one is in it for the
                            fun of it and isn't taking a serious attitude towards working with
                            animals. I can relate in that our institution hired a person who really
                            should have started out somewhere where she could dip her toes in and
                            work her way in, instead of jumping in over her head, but when she
                            graduated from college she "wanted to be a zookeeper" and took the first
                            full time job she could find. This person was responsible for a serious
                            mishap with the giraffe. In training her I would stress the fact that
                            one can't ever check enough, and she looked like she was understanding,
                            or she thought I was being really weird when I said I had to read
                            everyone their bedtime stories, which really meant (and I told her this)
                            that I was making a last check of locks, where everyone is, all basic
                            stuf However, came the evening that she "accidentally" housed the bull
                            with a cow and calf, and put the mother of the calf in the bull's stall.
                            The cow that happened to be in with the bull sustained a puncture wound
                            which still rears it's ugly head in the form of a huge abcess that won't
                            heal. She had only been on the area about two weeks, and this accident
                            happened to take place on my days off. What the senior keeper hopefully
                            learned was that one needs to constantly check up on people who are new
                            and in new situations, however that point is moot since he is no longer
                            employed with us...I have caught several things on this particular
                            person, i.e. unlocked locks, empty water tubs, etc...and have tried to
                            stress to her the importance of checking, and how it is for the safety of
                            the animals as well as humans but she doesn't seem to get it.

                            Now, last week I happened to run into a person who had visited previously
                            in the week as part of a group of interns from Fossil Rim. This person
                            seems really eager and enthusiastic about becoming a keeper. She asked
                            me what one needs to know, and what zoos expect when they go to hire
                            someone. This person really impressed me with her eagerness, and
                            willingness to do what she can to take the right steps towards becoming a
                            professional animal keeper. Unlike the person we have now, I just can't
                            figure out what motivates her.

                            I also wish to take exception to the notion that all other animals "just"
                            need to be baby talked to. The Other animals are sensitive to change as
                            well. Relationships need to be formed with other animals just as they do
                            with elephants. In most cases the "others" are behind some kind of
                            barrier, but there are some animals like hoofstock that one might need to
                            go in with, and believe you me they know a new person, and will react,
                            usually by getting excited and running all over the exhibit like a maniac
                            (do I sound like I am speaking from experience???)...So, back to my new
                            person, I hate to keep picking on her, but when it came time for her to
                            have to go herd the kudu in, it pained me to see her walk meekly up to
                            them and tell them in a baby voice to go in the barn. She was told
                            repeatedly to "walk softly but carry a big stick", but she still let the
                            male intimidate her, and he is castrated. I don't mean to keep picking
                            on this person, but I think she is a good example of someone who needs to
                            run to the nearest bunch of baby bunnies, and leave the other critters to
                            those who are inspired by them and care for them. To me it is scarey
                            that she wants to work with great apes. I may sound egocentric, but
                            don't let me fool you, I make mistakes, but at least I think I know when
                            I have messed up and try to not do it/them again. Sorry to have gone on
                            so long, but as you might have guessed, Jay was the catalyst for a nerve
                            getting hit...

                            Well, Jay, thanks for opening that avenue, and again I applaud you for
                            having the cajones to say what you feel.

                            Natalie Lindholm

                            On Wed, 25 Apr 2001 20:09:51 -0500 "jennifer london" <jen59@...>
                            writes:
                            > Wow................. that was rather harsh.
                            >
                            >
                            > ----- Original Message -----
                            > From: Jay <pachyman@...>
                            > To: <zookeeper@yahoogroups.com>
                            > Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 7:20 PM
                            > Subject: RE: [zookeeper] Starting as a keeper
                            >
                            >
                            > > If this is a free-contact environment, you stand a good chance of
                            > being
                            > > seriously injured or killed within two years. My bet would be
                            > within one
                            > > year. People rarely change their attitudes, and yours is
                            > incompatible
                            > with
                            > > successful elephant management. I base my assessment on having
                            > spent
                            > nearly
                            > > two decades working with bulls, cows, and calves in free-contact,
                            > > protected-contact, and confined-contact modalities. It is not a
                            > statement
                            > I
                            > > make lightly. For your own safety, I strongly urge you to attend
                            > Riddle's
                            > > elephant management school at your earliest opportunity. Classes
                            > are
                            > > generally held in May, and I believe it's a two-week course.
                            > >
                            > > For a number of years, I assumed that if I could work with
                            > elephants, then
                            > > anybody could. I couldn't have been more wrong, as I found out
                            > when we
                            > > brought in a couple of people with a tremendous desire to work
                            > with
                            > > elephants -- but had absolutely no business being around them.
                            > >
                            > > Baby talk? Give me a break!
                            > >
                            > > Establish consequences? Oh, sure. There are only two things you
                            > can make
                            > > an elephant do: run away, or kill you.
                            > >
                            > > If you can't get inside their heads; understand them, you're
                            > doomed. And
                            > > what I get from you here is that you just want to have fun.
                            > You're not in
                            > > it for them; you're in it for you. You want a nice warm and fuzzy
                            > feeling.
                            > > Run, do not walk, to the nearest clutch of bunny rabbits you can
                            > find.
                            > >
                            > > I know you'll find the above objectionable, but tough. I'm being
                            > brutally
                            > > honest for your good, for the good of the elephants, and for the
                            > good of
                            > the
                            > > organization that hired you. If you've followed this list any
                            > length of
                            > > time, you'll find that I rarely intrude. I make exceptions in
                            > matters of
                            > > life and death that involve my particular area of experience.
                            > >
                            > > Jay Haight
                            > >
                            > > > -----Original Message-----
                            > > > From: tricon7@... [mailto:tricon7@...]
                            > > > Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 3:17 PM
                            > > > To: zookeeper@yahoogroups.com
                            > > > Subject: [zookeeper] Starting as a keeper
                            > > >
                            > > > I've found out that unlike most animals I've worked with
                            > previously
                            > > > in zoos, an elephant keeper - a new keeper, especially - can't
                            > > > just "baby talk" to an elephant like they can to other animals.
                            > One
                            > > > must first establish "consequences" behavior with the elephant
                            > in
                            > > > order to get them to learn to obey your commands (as I've been
                            > told).
                            > > > I guess it's because of their intelligence that one has to
                            > inbibe in
                            > > > this protocol. It kind of takes away from the fun in working
                            > with
                            > > > them, at least in the short term. I hope that once they've
                            > accepted
                            > > > me, that I can talk freely to them.
                            > > >
                            > >
                            > >
                            > > Sharing knowledge so that animals may benefit from better care.
                            > >
                            > > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to
                            > http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
                            > >
                            > >
                            > >
                            >
                            >
                            >
                            > Sharing knowledge so that animals may benefit from better care.
                            >
                            > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to
                            > http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
                            >
                            >
                          • Jay
                            Thanks, Natalie! I was aware that my previous post to this group may have provoked some of the other subscribers, but I do believe that it is imperative that
                            Message 13 of 17 , Apr 26 10:26 AM
                              Thanks, Natalie!

                              I was aware that my previous post to this group may have provoked some of
                              the other subscribers, but I do believe that it is imperative that an
                              elephant handler be fully aware of the risks inherent in elephant
                              management, and that such individuals possess the necessary skill-set and
                              level of professionalisism to succeed. There are approximately 600 elephant
                              handlers in North America, and on average, one is seriously injured or
                              killed each year. These facts motivated the United States Occupational
                              Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to declare elephant handling one of
                              the most dangerous occupations in America, some years ago; a fact not lost
                              on the insurance industry. By way of illustration: when I purchased my
                              first home in 1986, I was deluged with mail and calls from insurance agents.
                              I finally allowed one of the more persistent agents to visit me at my home.
                              He took my age and other information down, and at length asked about my
                              occupation. When I told him I was an elephant handler, he blanched. "Do
                              you actually go in with them?", he asked. "Yes," I replied. "Well then I
                              can't insure you.", he said. As he happened to be representing Mutual of
                              Omaha, I couldn't resist asking, "What would Marlin Perkins think?"

                              My point is, this is a serious business. One doesn't live long among
                              elephants by "baby-talking" them. Nor is it possible to beat them into
                              submission -- or desirable even to try that approach. Rather, it's
                              neccessary to get inside their heads, to understand them behaviorally; to
                              move with cautious confidence.

                              To those such as Debbie, who believe that

                              >This occupation has lost to many people to over grown egos. It does not
                              >matter if you are working with elephants or hamsters. The animals should be
                              >viewed as your coworkers not as adversaries.
                              >I also have over two decades experience in this profession. Please change
                              >your attitude or reevaluate your career.

                              I respectfully suggest that it is not I who needs to consider re-evaluation.
                              I have never suffered from an overblown ego. But I have never considered
                              any of the animals in my care to be my co-workers, nor my adversaries.
                              Captive wild animals are not people in fur coats, people with thick skins,
                              nor are they babies to be cuddled and cooed at.

                              The animals in our care deserve our deep respect for the magnificent
                              organisms that they are. As animal care *Professionals*, we do them no
                              service by viewing them as co-workers. They aren't. They are who, and
                              what, they are.

                              Natalie, I think your discussion of the co-worker who accidentally housed a
                              male giraffe with a female, and has trouble with remembering that the
                              animals need water and that locks need to be checked, etcetera, graphically
                              illustrates another point that I was attempting to make in my last post:
                              there are people in this profession who really should find another line of
                              work. If you're in it to make yourself feel good, or to gain a sense of
                              self-importance, you don't belong here.

                              Attention to detail, solid observational skills, and respect for the animals
                              as the animals they are rank highly among the hallmarks of a successful and
                              professional Animal Care Specialist. And that's what zookeeping is about.

                              Jay Haight


                              > -----Original Message-----
                              > From: Natalie M Lindholm [mailto:nattymash@...]
                              > Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2001 9:30 PM
                              > To: zookeeper@yahoogroups.com
                              > Subject: Re: [zookeeper] Starting as a keeper
                              >
                              >
                              > Harsh, but I applaud Jay for saying what he feels. I don't work
                              > elephants, but can relate to the feeling that maybe one is in it for the
                              > fun of it and isn't taking a serious attitude towards working with
                              > animals. I can relate in that our institution hired a person who really
                            • beringeikl@aol.com
                              Dear Jay: I think you misinterpreted my response. I was supporting you stance, but perhaps I should rethink my position. Debbie
                              Message 14 of 17 , Apr 26 9:17 PM
                                Dear Jay:
                                I think you misinterpreted my response. I was supporting you stance, but
                                perhaps I should rethink my position.         Debbie
                              • Jay
                                I was recently asked to write a short article about zookeeping, as a lot of people in our metropolitan area find it an interesting job. What follows is my
                                Message 15 of 17 , Apr 27 11:27 AM
                                  I was recently asked to write a short article about zookeeping, as a lot of
                                  people in our metropolitan area find it an interesting job. What follows is
                                  my 20-minute take on the profession. As there are a number of relative
                                  necomers to the field lurking on this list, not to mention all of those who
                                  may be considering such a career, I thought it appropriate to post it over
                                  here.

                                  Best Regards,

                                  Jay Haight
                                  Oregon Zoo


                                  ZOOKEEPING: THE INSIDE SCOOP

                                  Asked to provide a job description a few years ago, my long-time partner at
                                  Elephants, Roger Henneous, put it succinctly: "Days, weeks, and months of
                                  back-breaking labor, punctuated by moments of abject terror." Perhaps
                                  Roger's most recognizable attribute has been his breathtaking willingness to
                                  go to great lengths to colorfully state the obvious. Living and working
                                  among elephants isn't easy, but then, Zookeeping is a demanding profession.
                                  And elephants are just a small part of the equation.

                                  Many people, I've found, haven't the slightest idea regarding what is
                                  involved in being a Zookeeper. Having been in the zoo field for the past 25
                                  years gives me the luxury of a degree of perspective in looking at this
                                  constantly - changing career.

                                  Some things, of course, never change: the animals don't know or care what
                                  day it is; they still need to be fed, watered, etcetera. So a Zookeeper can
                                  forget about holidays. You're going to be spending Christmas, New Years'
                                  Day, Labor Day, and virtually every other holiday at the zoo; get used to
                                  it. Forget about taking the typical Saturday/Sunday weekend off; your
                                  weekend could well be Monday/Tuesday, or whatever works best to fulfill
                                  staffing needs. When bad weather hits, and everybody except the ODOT crews
                                  are staying home - you're not. Plan on annual TB tests and, for some of us
                                  lucky folks, rabies vaccinations and blood titers. Then, there is the
                                  constant cleaning. Think you have a crappy job? An elephant can lose 400 to
                                  500 pounds overnight! One of your duties is to pick that up.

                                  Other things are constantly changing: animals get sick, they get old, they
                                  get fat, they get skinny, they develop bad habits that have to be
                                  corrected - in brief, a large part of the job of the skilled Keeper involves
                                  good observational skills, and the ability to make sense of what you're
                                  observing. Heading off disasters before they occur is far preferable to
                                  dealing with the aftermath.

                                  Keepers have encountered - and helped to develop - increasingly complex
                                  animal habitats over the past couple of decades. It involves much more work
                                  to maintain the habitats, but the complexity affords the animals in our care
                                  something that they lacked twenty years ago: opportunities to display their
                                  behaviors, and to live more or less natural lifestyles. To us, that's a big
                                  plus, and more than sufficient reason to expand upon this approach.

                                  The bottom line for the serious Keeper is this: not one of these animals
                                  ever asked to be held in captivity. So we owe them, at minimum, the best
                                  possible life we can provide for them. This job isn't about paperwork,
                                  education, vegetation, or constipation. A good Keeper likes nothing better
                                  than to see a good dump, and normal behavior from their captive wild
                                  charges. We don't mind coming in at midnight, or later, to deal with animal
                                  problems. The animals are first; all else is secondary. Taking care of them
                                  well requires a level of dedication and commitment unheard of in many other
                                  fields of work, but the rewards are great, and we see them often.

                                  Last week, for example, I did a little "behind-the-scenes" tour with some
                                  bankers. We visited the rhinos, and they were astounded to have been able to
                                  hand-feed a slice of apple to one. Hey, that's my job. I do it every day.
                                  It's a lot easier to provide quality care for your animals when you stay on
                                  good terms with them. It seems almost unimaginable to me that some people
                                  live their whole lives pushing pencils and buttons, and never get dose to
                                  animals of any sort.

                                  As if the above couldn't fully occupy a day, people are always finding new
                                  things for us to do: somebody decides that simply taking care of the animals
                                  isn't enough; we should be taking care of the visiting public, as well.
                                  Poof! You're an educator! Suddenly, you find yourself having to factor in
                                  additional time to do public speaking engagements (or as they're fondly
                                  referred to, "Keeper Talks'). So you hate public speaking and you've never
                                  had any training as an educator? Tough nuts, babe - you're an educator, now,
                                  whether you want to be or not.

                                  Somebody else has found an unused closet and a train shed. Presto! You have
                                  more animals and more exhibits to deal with. Of late, another big push has
                                  involved asking Keepers to engage in in-situ conservation projects, and so
                                  we find staff time being consumed in ever-larger quantities as resources are
                                  diverted toward the care of native species of turtles, frogs, butterflies,
                                  and lagomorphs (rabbits).

                                  New exhibits, additional animals, veterinary issues all add up to one thing
                                  for a Keeper: more to do - and less time in which to do it. About all one
                                  can do is hope that the animals stay healthy, that the life-support systems
                                  don't act up, and that the drains don't clog. If you've visited the zoo,
                                  you've probably never noticed that, in most cases, the drains are located
                                  upslope, rather that at the bottom of a slope. That's because you aren't a
                                  Zookeeper. In point of fact, the official definition of the term,
                                  "Zookeeper" is: "one who pushes water up-hill". Increasingly, facilities
                                  appear to be designed with this thought in mind. Perhaps it helps to prevent
                                  clogs. There are reasons for everything.

                                  In any event, a large number of factors have been incrementally added into
                                  the mix over the past quarter of a century. From the perspective of a
                                  long-term Zookeeper, some of these factors, such as increased exhibit
                                  complexity, have proven of great benefit even as they require more time for
                                  labor, observation, and fine-tuning. One cool aspect of being a Zookeeper
                                  involves the mental exercise you get. You never stop learning. You have to
                                  stay on top of things, because if you're not training the animal, chances
                                  are good that it's training you. I figure that if a week goes by wherein I
                                  haven't learned something, it's probably time to start selling shoes at
                                  Nordie's. So far, that week's never shown up.

                                  Jay Haight. April, 2001.
                                • beringeikl@aol.com
                                  BRAVO! Debbie
                                  Message 16 of 17 , Apr 27 1:00 PM
                                    BRAVO!
                                            Debbie
                                  • Jay
                                    Sorry, Debbie -- I thought you were telling me to get a new career! It is entirely possible that I misinterpreted your whole post. However, I do stand by the
                                    Message 17 of 17 , Apr 27 3:09 PM
                                      Sorry, Debbie -- I thought you were telling me to get a new career!  It is entirely possible that I misinterpreted your whole post.  However, I do stand by the portion of text in which I note that it is, in my view, a mistake to view the animals in our care as co-workers.  They aren't.  Nor are they adversaries.  They can be worked with, and the ability to do so is a sign of a good animal care professional.  We should explore these differences in perspective.  It may boil down simply to semantics, or we may gain something from our collective experiences that neither of us would have put together on our own.
                                       
                                      All the best!
                                       
                                      Jay Haight
                                      -----Original Message-----
                                      From: beringeikl@... [mailto:beringeikl@...]
                                      Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2001 9:18 PM
                                      To: zookeeper@yahoogroups.com
                                      Subject: Re: [zookeeper] Starting as a keeper

                                      Dear Jay:
                                      I think you misinterpreted my response. I was supporting you stance, but
                                      perhaps I should rethink my position.         Debbie


                                      Sharing knowledge so that animals may benefit from better care.

                                      Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to the Yahoo! Terms of Service.
                                    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.