Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: Lisa's Dream Animals

Thank you for tuning in to my weekly Wildlife Wednesday series! I post nature-related articles the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, and I answer "Ask a Zookeeper" questions the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

Today's question comes from the amazing (and amazingly busy) Alex J. Cavanaugh, who somehow manages to balance writing (two published novels to date!), blogging and regularly commenting on what must be hundreds of lucky blogger's websites. 

Somehow I ended up becoming one of those lucky bloggers, and Alex's question today is:

"What are your favorite and least favorite animals to deal with?"

The funny thing about this question is the fact that if you asked 100 different zookeepers and animal professionals, you'd likely get 100 different answers. Part of the fun of becoming a zookeeper or animal trainer is getting to figure out which animals are your most and least favorite to work with, and your answers are often surprising. (For example, you may turn out to hate working with an animal you've long considered your "favorite.)

When I first started working as a zookeeper at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, I was itching to find out which animals were my favorites to work with. Because, you see, among zookeepers, there's this crazy unspoken hierarchy. You have your marine mammal people, and you have your primate people. You have your big cat people, your elephant people, your bear people, your canine people, your hoofstock people, your bird people, your reptile people... The list goes on and on. 

There are funny (and usually inaccurate!) stereotypes associated with each type of keeper. Certain types of keepers are considered extremely vain, certain types are considered rather bizarre, and certain types are considered adrenaline junkies. 

I had no idea which type of keeper I'd be, but I was certain I'd fall in love with some really cool type of animal, like a polar bear or a snow leopard. Imagine my surprise, then, when I quickly realized my favorite animal in the world was this guy:

Photo Courtesy of Me
That's right. I fell in love with a camel. A Bactrian camel, to be exact, a young bull named Knobby who changed my life in so many ways that I can't even begin to explain it.

Knobby was... dorky. And awkward. He often farted when he sat down, and he slipped a lot when he ran. His double humps wiggled when he jumped, he was terrified of wind, and his favorite pastime was smelling his own pee and then staring proudly at the sky like, "Yes. I did that."

When my husband and I left Alaska in 2010, I truly felt like I was leaving my child behind. And to this day, I still tear up when I think about the afternoon I finally had to say goodbye to him. I love that big klutz more than words can describe.

Knobby taught me lots of things, one of which was the fact that I'm not a huge fan of working with big, scary carnivores. Don't get me wrong, camels can be extremely dangerous--a little known fact--and I had to treat Knobby with an incredible amount of respect. He weighed close to 1,500 pounds when I left, and I always had to keep that in mind. I often had to cut training sessions short when I felt like he was getting a little too excited, because he could have crushed and trampled me in a second.

But the point is, Knobby didn't want to EAT me, and I was a big fan of that. I was also a big fan of the fact that Bactrian camels are domesticated, which means the thought of hanging around with a human all day isn't the strangest idea in the world to them.

Knobby also taught me that I like awkward animals. (Maybe I see a little bit of myself in them? ;)) This led me to enjoy working with many other awkward animals, and now my list of dream animals I'd LOVE to work with (but haven't) includes:

(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Animal Kingdom Pet Hospital)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
What can I say? Perhaps I am a little dorky. (Ya think??) And I'm definitely a bit of a chicken, because on the other end of the spectrum, you couldn't pay me enough to work with any of the following animals: 

(Disclaimer: Many, many, many zookeepers would argue that these are the very best animals to work with. Those zookeepers just happen to be tougher than me.)
MANDRILS... Way too smart, and way too strong
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
ALLIGATORS... Left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
SALTWATER CROCODILES... Even scarier left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
RETICULATED PYTHONS... Left-over dinosaurs with no legs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
KOMODO DRAGONS... Left-over dinosaurs with crazy mouths
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
So, there you have it! Lesson learned: Lisa LOVES dorky, approachable animals. ;)  Thanks so much for tuning in, and make sure to join me next Wednesday for an awesome, nature-related article. Have a wonderful week!


Melissa said...

ROTFL! This was a wonderful post -- thank you. As much as I adore animals, I would still probably prefer to work with the ones on your list. (Especially the porcupine.)

My mentor is a man named Bob Bailey. He told me that dog trainers (which I am) make the worst exotic animal trainers because we want to BOND with the animals and develop a relationship. In dogs, the relationship is everything. Not so much with a grizzly or alligator or other non-social animal.

He also taught me, "Never teach an elephant to come to you until you teach him to stop."

L.C. said...

Lol, Knobby sounds like a real character! Loved your post! I'm now convinced my boyfriend was probably a bactrian camel in a past life.

RandomZone said...

Love your list of dorky animals if I was a zookeeper, I'd probably work with wolves and other canines. What are the stereotypes about this type of zookeeper?

Tara said...

I loved this post, too. My husband and I got to spend a few days at a drill monkey and chimp rescue center in Nigeria a couple of years ago, and I've got to say I'm 100% with you--those animals are way too strong and clever to mess with!

Camels are awesome, though. We found Bactrians much more comfy to ride than Dromedaries. I won't say which one I thought tasted better, though. *ducks*

Keep up with the great wildlife posts! =)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks for answering my question!
I wouldn't want to work with any of those animals either and for the reasons you named.
You definitely have a kind heart if dorky Knobby was your favorite. I take it that's him in the photo with snow and you on his back?

YelenaC said...

What a wonderful wonderful post! It made me smile, laugh and even get sad at the thought of you having to leave Knobby. Thank you for making my day a little brighter.
Also, I love your description of the zookeepers hierarchy and "clicks" lol
I think everyone who works with animals in any capacity is amazing and is doing truly good work!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Okay, two things make you automatically cool in my book:
1. Pictures on the right of your blog.
2. That you picked a camel as one of your favorite animals.

~ Wendy

Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC said...

Lisa Ann, I feel like it's been decades since I've heard from you. I saw this and immediately thought of you :-)

LTM said...

omg, yes. The reptiles are frightening. LOL! But Knobby is crackin me up--farted when he sat down. *snort* :D I bet it was tons of fun. Love hearing your vet stories~ :o) <3

Lora R. Rivera said...

Hilarious!! I love the staring at the sky proudly after a good pee bit. And "Leftover dinosaurs!" Yes yes yes! Too funny. Thanks for this, Lisa.

squirrel_e_girl said...

You had me at "Sloths"...actually, you had me at "Knobby". Wonderful animals. Wonderful post!! Thank you.

Dinda Amanda said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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