Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ask a Zookeeper: When Animals Escape

As many of you know, I am the Zookeeper-in-Residence on Jobstr.com--a website where "you can ask people anything about their jobs and answer questions about yours. It’s as though [they] took the classic 'What do you do?' cocktail party question and turned it into a website…minus the awkward small-talk."

I have been having a great time hosting my Zookeeper Q&A so far, and I have decided to reprint one of my favorite Jobstr questions on my blog every Tuesday. (Do you have your very own "Ask a Zookeeper" question for me? Ask it HERE!)

Here is this week's question:

Q. Has [an animal at your zoo] ever gone missing or escaped and did staff completely freak out? -nat

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
A: I have been fortunate enough to have never dealt with a large-scale animal escape. However, a few years before I started working at one particular facility, a bunch of kids broke in and cut the locks off a number of animal enclosures. The result was chaos, as you can imagine, but thankfully zoos have protocols for dealing with just such a situation.

Animals are basically categorized according to their threat level. Large carnivores and some other animals (like an elephant or a moose in rut) are considered the highest priority, of course. An emergency plan is developed the moment the zoo acquires this animal, and staff members are briefed on what to do should an emergency arise. (Evacuate the zoo, for instance, and then grab tranquilizer guns and attempt to corral the animal back where it belongs.) Training is also done to teach the animals how to react in unfamiliar situations, because the animals are often more frightened than the humans. Many animals know their crates are safe places, so zoo staff members often use positive reinforcement to entice them back into their crates. Finally, everyone attempts to keep his or her cool, because animals can often sense our stress.

In reality, we are half-terrified, but just like a first responder is trained to react to an emergency, we are, too. Our calm and focus is critical at a time like that.


J. A. Bennett said...

Wow, this is fascinating! Thanks for posting it!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You need to keep your wits about you!
So have you experienced small animals escaping?

Mar said...

Great post! I love reading these every week.

You'll appreciate this story... one day I was taking a certain porcupine to an outreach and when I pulled into the school and looked in the rearview mirror of the new outreach van, I realized she had managed to open her crate and climb on top of it. I was terrified! How was I supposed to get a porcupine back into her crate? But just like you said, it's their safe place. I was able to tip the crate over, have her climb down and go right back in. All while making sure I didn't get quilled. You better believe she was rewarded for going back in her crate after that one :)

Shallee said...

Kids cut the locks?? That's awful! Thanks for sharing-- these are so fascinating!

Charlie Holmberg said...

Who would cut the locks??? Insane! I want to know more details about this... ;)

alexia said...

An emergency plan for zoo escapees! That never occured to me, but of course it makes perfect sense.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Elliot Grace said...

...the potential drama involved is gripping to think about.

Great post,


LTM said...

oh, wow! Great question and answer here! Interesting stuff I'd never even thought about--rating numbers, crates, etc. And yes, who would cut the locks? I guess they were on the track team... ;p <3

Altha Fidia Oktora 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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