Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ask a Zookeeper: How Many Animals?

Happy ZOOsday, everyone! 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." I reprint one of my favorite "Ask a Zookeeper" questions on my blog every Tuesday, and you can ask your own question HERE!

Here is this week's question:

Q. How many animals do you have in a typical zoo, and how many people are needed to take care of a zoo this size? -Royce

Photo Courtesy of wwarby
A: Hi Royce! I wish there were a simple answer for this question, but there is so much variation between zoos that it's nearly impossible to make a generalization. In terms of staffing, it is also important to take into account what kind of animals each facility has. (Two elephants require way more trainers than 10 turtles, for instance.)

Off the top of my head, I know that the San Diego Zoo (a very big and impressive facility) has more than 4,000 animals, but the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has more than 32,500. Many of the Aquarium's animals are tiny invertebrates and fish, so the number doesn't tell you nearly as much as you would initially think.

Using specific examples from my background, I have independently cared for about 25 animals during one shift. Some of these animals were small and easy like baby quails, but some were big and high-maintenance like eagles.

I worked in another facility where 15-17 dolphins were taken care of by 6-9 trainers and interns, so staffing definitely depends on the specific animal species. It also depends on each zoo's vision and approach to behavioral enrichment and training. (The more staff we have on hand, the more time we can dedicate to the "fun stuff" like making enrichment for our animals and leading training sessions!)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ask a Zookeeper: That Time I Was Nearly Crushed

Happy ZOOsday, everyone! 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." I reprint one of my favorite "Ask a Zookeeper" questions on my blog every Tuesday, and you can ask your own question HERE!

Here is this week's question:

Q. In your time with animals, has there ever been an instance where you really felt your life was in danger? What happened and how did you get out of that situation? -luke

Photo Courtesy of Meneer Zjeroen
A. Only once. And ironically, it was with a camel. (I have chuckled over this countless times, because camels don't carry the street cred bears and big cats do. If you tell someone you almost got killed by a lion, you become a superstar. If you tell someone you almost got killed by a camel, they just shake their heads and laugh at you.)

That being said, this situation definitely wasn't a laughing matter at the time. This particular camel Knobby was about 1,400 pounds and more than six and a half feet tall, and he had the temperament, strength and temper of a MASSIVE unbroken stallion.

I had been working with him for a few months, and we had made amazing progress together. I still knew he was dangerous, but I guess I started to be lulled by our familiarity. I began to think he viewed me as his "buddy," and I stopped paying as close attention to our safety protocols.

I was working the late shift at the time. One evening, I was running really behind schedule, and I didn't make it to his enclosure until the zoo was closed and almost all the other keepers had left for the day. Even though I knew it was best practice to make sure other keepers were around in case I needed help, I decided to enter his enclosure and do some solo cleaning anyway.

There was a faulty latch on one of the gates, and the fence sometimes got stuck closed. I should have left it completely open, but I didn't. Instead, I walked right in and closed the gate behind me. I started raking, but it became clear very quickly that Knobby was in a rare mood. Instead of avoiding me like he usually did, he began chasing me around the enclosure. I used my rake to try to block him, but he began huffing and kicking and trying to bite and push me.

I tried to make a run for that faulty gate, but of course, it was stuck. I didn't have enough time to fiddle with it, so I ended up hiding behind a swing gate with my back pressed against the barn wall. Knobby stamped and pressed against the other side of the gate for several minutes, and it literally occurred to me that he may crush me between the gate and the wall.

Thankfully, he got distracted by something after ten minutes or so, and I was able to make a run for it. When I finally escaped, I immediately collapsed to the ground outside his enclosure and burst into tears.

It's difficult to describe the emotions I felt at that moment. Relief, for sure, but I also felt betrayed--like Knobby should have known better. He was supposed to LIKE me; how could he consider hurting me?

This is when I realized I had begun treating Knobby like a pet. This is the most critical mistake you can ever make as a zookeeper, because this is when the majority of accidents happen.

Once I came to terms with this realization, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started my evening training session with him (outside the bars). We went on to have many years of wonderful interactions, and I eventually taught him to sit on command, roll on his side, present his feet for inspection, wear a halter and let me to sit on his back.

But one thing I NEVER did again was take his size and strength for granted. He became my very favorite animal at the zoo, but I never entered his enclosure again without fully formulating an escape plan first.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Healthy Writers Club: Getting Real & Moving Forward

Photo Courtesy of Shallee McArthur
Happy New Year, everyone! I must admit, I definitely strayed from my healthy choices this holiday season. (I suppose everyone does...) This year it was different for me, though. I didn't fall off the wagon because I was happily surrounded by friends and family. I WAS happily surrounded by friends and family, but my poor decisions came from a different place entirely.

I stopped living healthy because I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by uncertainty and sadness.

Let me get real here. Social media is such a limited platform, because we usually only share our 'best of' moments and milestones. But we all have so much going on behind the curtain that perhaps honesty is sometimes an undervalued trait here.

"Wizard of Oz" Photo Courtesy of Out.Of.Focus
So let me be honest: December was one of the hardest months of my entire life. It highlighted the fact that I had just undergone one of the biggest changes I will ever undergo, and my Decembers will never, ever be the same again. (Read more here: Once There Was a Heartbreak.)

I find that when my life is out of balance, I purposefully find ways to make my body and space out of balance. How can you possibly have an immaculately clean house when your insides are falling apart? And how can you possibly have a strong, healthy body when your instinct is to curl into a ball and go to sleep?

I have gone through similar funks before--haven't we all?--but this time I decided to be gentle with myself. Instead of becoming frustrated and making myself feel even worse, I simply set my healthy goals aside and said, "Okay, you really want to go here, then? Fine. You have until the beginning of January to dwell on whatever it is you're dwelling on, and then you better be ready to hit the ground running in 2013."

Wow. It was like getting a free pass, but you know what? The knowledge that it was OKAY not to be okay was all the inspiration I needed. I took those last few weeks of December, and I drowned in my uncertainties. And then the moment that ball dropped to usher in 2013, I found myself filled with hope. I was out on the beach watching fireworks explode over the Gulf of Mexico with some friends, and those beautiful flashes mixed with turquoise water felt like salve to my soul.

My inner voice became strong again: "All right. That's enough. It's time to begin again."

Photo Courtesy of PhotoOptik
Weekly Healthy Writers Club Milestones:

1. BODYTwo bike rides (21 miles total), two arm workouts, two balance training workouts

2. MIND: I got a new job! Starting on Monday, I will be the Admissions & Graduate Services Coordinator at Southeastern Guide Dogs, an amazing non-profit that trains service dogs for visually impaired people and disabled veterans. Talk about good karma!

3. SOUL: A shared birthday party with a good friend in downtown Tampa, a wicked fun Surfrider Foundation benefit concert at the St. Petersburg Pier, a few fun lunches with friends, one beach visit (complete with sunset watching)

How did your week go? Any healthy milestones or set-backs? I'm looking forward to visiting your blogs, and I hope you have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Year's Lesson: This Shit is Hard

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Pardon my French, but the beginning of 2013 has inspired me to look back at my 2012 and see what lessons I have learned.

Wow. My life has taken so many twists and turns in the past year that it's hard to keep track of them. I parted ways with my first literary agent and tearfully shelved my first novel. I wrote a new (better) novel, and I scored a new (better) agent. I became an aunt, and I felt my life shift so profoundly in response that I made the decision to say goodbye to the relationship, friends and job I loved in Colorado.

What do I have to show for it? Right now, I'm in the foggy, transitional time between here and there. My life in Colorado has drawn to a close, but my life in Florida has barely just begun. I am surrounded by friends and family and people I care about, but I have no idea what lies ahead of me.

Will I score a book deal this year? Will I find the perfect day job?

Most importantly, will I rebuild the pieces of my life into something I can be proud of?

I don't know. I sure hope so.

Which leads me to my post title: this shit is hard. The writing, the living, the loving... The thriving and not just surviving. The blazing of trails, the pursuit of our destinies. Because at the end of the day, we may have NOTHING to show for it.

But, you know what? Maybe we WILL have something to show for it. And we will never, ever know if we are too afraid to take the plunge and surrender ourselves into the hands of fate. Because as the quote says:

"We all go through rough times and disappointments in our lives, but realize that we are all in the midst of creating our own story of triumph through the decisions we make and the actions we take every time life knocks us down. 

It is in attempting to reach our dreams that we develop the necessary skills and mentality to overcome any roadblocks that lie ahead of us. 

Never let a moment of defeat define your life's outcome. 

No matter how many failures you've had, you still have it in you to create the greatest comeback story of your life. 

Until you run out of pages, there is still room to write an epic ending."