Mother updates resume, cites zookeeping experience

Categorized as 01/26/09 Goshen News column

Big Z, little z, what begins with z? Zookeeper does, that’s what.

Whether it was boredom with daily life or a simple case of the midwinter jickers, to quote Dr. Seuss, this week found me daydreaming about alternative career choices. After thinking through some options, I decided to research zoo keeping. Now that would be a change of pace, I mused.

Sure enough. I found a helpful article that started out by claiming that zoo keeping can be a very rewarding career and that if I was looking to join, I should know it could be very hard and dangerous.

While you work with many wonderful and exotic animals (the upside), the work is hard and the pay is generally low (the downside). The reason you do this job at all, it stated, is “because you love it.”

Hmm. Wonderful, exotic animals? Hard work and danger? Low pay? Working for love? This sounded all too much like another career with which I am intimately acquainted. Now they had my attention.

I read on.

One of the basic duties of a zoo keeper, it said, is cleaning the animals’ living cages. A bell sounded somewhere in my head. I certainly have experience there, I thought. Danger? Only one item into the list and I was already encountering it. Three boys sharing one bathroom – need I say more? Images of goggles, Haz Mat suits, and a “condemned” sign nailed across the bathroom door flashed through my mind.

The second item on the list was the feeding of the animals. Ding – bell number two sounded. I was overqualified in this area with a significant portion of my adult life being devoted to the feeding of four cubs and one adult male. Being a nutritionist, I knew, required a strong working knowledge of one’s exotic little animals as the needs of an adolescent bear differ greatly from those of an adult or a cublet.

Even now our very own baby bear is eating twice his weight in groceries on a daily basis. This tells me, the alert dietician, that he’s either having a growth spurt or he’s making up for being off his feed for a week due to illness. So I let him eat.

Conversely, over feeding can be harmful for cubs. A good zoo keeper will maintain vigilance so the pack doesn’t engage in too much illicit grazing when she’s working in another part of the zoo. Hence, the eyes in the back of her head.

Another basic duty of a zoo keeper, the article stated, is watching for signs of illness. These include changes in behavior, appearance, bowel habits, and appetite in addition to coughing, lumps and bumps, limping, or regurgitation. Bell number three went off. This was downright uncanny.

Any mother worth her salt knows that what’s in the baby’s diaper is important. It tells her a lot. She is quick to note a flushed face or the sudden absence of capers from a smallish primate. When she discovers lumps, bumps, or limping that have been inflicted on one zoo dweller by another one, she moves quickly to isolate the agitator in a separate cage. And nothing gooses her into motion like a little regurgitation.

The last two items on the list were research and public relations. Ding and ding. By now, I was ready to update my resume.

It sure takes a lot of research to do this job correctly. Dr. Dobson, Dr. Kevin Leman, the Holy Scriptures, and eloquent prayers that go like this, “Help!!” are all sources I have referenced. And regarding public relations, we certainly work hard to ensure that our charges can relate in a civilized manner while in public. As the article mentioned, we must remember that the little critters are wild and still have their basic instincts. Uh-huh. That’s why the average stay in the zoo is roughly 18 years.

In summary, what I learned this week simply confirms what some have suspected all along – this is a zoo and I’m one of the keepers. Excuse me while I print up tickets so I can charge big bucks for admission. You’re welcome to visit. The line forms to the right. Oh, and please don’t feed the animals.

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