happy national zookeeper week!

The best week of the year is here! (If you’re a zookeeper at least).

Here’s a little theme song to get it started!

It’s going to be a very fun week celebrating the proud profession of zookeeping. I have a few surprises planned for the blog as well.

I’ve seen lots of “Top Ten” lists floating around the good ol’ world wide web as of late, as in the “Top Ten Things Not to say to your (fill in the blank) Friend.” I also posted a comment on Facebook last week about something a visitor said to me, which sparked a bit of a lively discussion.

Tonight’s post is inspired by those lists and that Facebook post. So, in the spirits of NZKW, without further ado, I present:


(shall we begin?)

1. “Hahaha! Look at that anteater/bear/lion/whatever type of animal! Hahaha!”

Visitors say some form of this ALL. OF. THE. TIME. Seriously. A keeper will be outside getting a yard ready for an animal in the morning and someone just has to point out that there’s a human in there, and not the expected animal. Keepers hear this no less than five times every single morning. The great irony is that I have never heard this comment without the commentator laughing like crazy afterwards! I don’t get it! It’s not funny, it’s not creative, and it is totally annoying to hear a zillion times a day. Come on, people! You can do better than this!

2. “I’d really like to keep looking at that anteater/bear/lion/whatever type of animal…” (said in a lewd, disgusting voice directed at the keeper).

Gross. Need I say more? Nobody needs this kind of harassment in the morning while they’re trying to clean up a yard.

3. “Where the bears at?” Or some variation on this theme i.e. “Why aren’t the animals out and when are they coming out?!” (always said in a snotty voice).

First of all, is there some sort of problem with “Excuse me, ma'am, but where are the bears?” Why is it always “Where the bears at?” Basic grammar, people! Keepers hear some variation of this theme over and over and over again all morning. Imagine arriving at work and having someone ask you why you haven’t finished your work yet repeatedly for the entire first hour you’re there. It is truly annoying. People want a clean zoo, well cared for, happy, healthy animals, but they also want to see every species exactly at 8 am. You can’t have both. You just can’t. Keepers arrive to work at 8 am (usually) and need some time to feed the animals and prepare the yards. Plus, this ain’t Six Flags. These are live creatures, so keep in mind that not every day goes exactly as planned. We do our best to have the animals outside as quickly as possible, and we know you want to see them. If you see a keeper working in a yard just know that she/he is doing her/his best to get the animals out and ready for the day. You do not need to join the cacophony of visitors constantly asking where they at. (are?). :)

4. “When are you going to get a grown up job?”

Maybe it’s the khaki uniform. Is it the khaki uniform? I don’t know. It might come off a bit cartoonish, I suppose. But this is a rude thing to say to anyone, nonetheless. My coworkers in my department of the Zoo range in age from 23-57. I assure you, these are grown ups working this job. It is a career you can work in for a lifetime. There is a salary, benefits and a pension (hopefully?). Being a keeper actually counts as a grown up job. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy being active, enthusiastic and young at heart, of course!

5. “Eww! That animal is UGLY!”

Ok, now, this is just mean! Understand that keepers dedicate their lives to caring for these animals. We love them! Hearing you say that any animal is ugly is purely insulting to us too! Don’t say that. Just don’t.

6. “Come meet me straight from work at (fill in the blank with some fancy party).”

It might be a grown up job, but it’s still a dirty job! Going straight from work to some social function (outside of zoo society) is not very easy for keepers. We’re sweaty, dirty, most likely smell like some kind of ungulate and ill prepared for the swankier side of society. We might be late for most, if not all, post-work social functions, but trust me, it’s for the best. 

7. DON’T walk away from a keeper after asking a question without giving a “Thank you!”

Ok, so that’s not really a direct quote and it might seem like common sense, but this seriously happens constantly. A visitor will walk up to me, ask a question i.e. “Where are the giraffes?” and once I’ve answered they’ll just turn and walk away. What is the matter with our society?! Keepers are real, live human beings who deserve common courtesy. If you stop a keeper to ask a question, especially a keeper who is obviously hurrying as most are, be kind enough to reply with a simple “thank you.” It’s that easy. Aretha Franklin said it best–R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That is all.

8. “Hi there, (keeper friend), guess what?! I’m at the Zoo! Can I have a behind the scenes tour in five minutes?”

It is amazing to get to go to work everyday at the zoo. It really is. The thing is though, keepers actually go there to work. We know you’re having fun as a visitor, but keepers typically have a very busy day. Giving behind the scenes tours is a great job perk, but it is really difficult to arrange them at the last minute. If you have a friend working at the zoo, be courteous enough to let them know a few days (or at minimum, hours) ahead of time if you are hoping for a tour.

9. “Look out! It’s right behind you! The bear is behind you! Hahahaha!”

People think that this is SO funny. I will tell you right now, it is not. This is not a joke and not something to laugh at. Keepers far more experience than I am have lost their lives from animals walking in on them in habitats. We are all human, and so it is only natural that we too make mistakes. Unfortunately, in this occupation, a mistake can cost you your life. So, it is nothing to joke about. A bear could actually be behind a keeper. Don’t scare someone trying to do their job by yelling this at them. It’s mean, rude and not something keepers take lightly.

Drum roll please….And finally….

10. “Look (kid), that’s what you’ll have to do if you don’t go to college!” Or some variation on this theme.

A comment like this sparked the lively discussion on my Facebook feed. Yes, people do actually say this to keepers. Why anyone in their right mind thinks it is ok in modern society to say this to anyone at anytime is beyond me…but it happens. Keepers waaaay back in the day used to be viewed as laborers. Now, they are more like scientists. Keepers must earn a four year degree to be considered for a job, usually a bachelors in Biology, Zoology or Animal Science (not *cough* something like English *cough*). Some keepers even have masters degrees or a PhD. This is a terribly disrespectful thing to say. Know that keepers are educated people wielding a dustpan and broom because they care about animals and they want to be working at a zoo. It is for many, a dream job, not a last resort for dropouts.

And there you have it! My list of the “Top Ten Things Not To Say to a Zookeeper.”

Do you have any to add? Do I just sound like a crotchety old lady? Perhaps.

BUT, no matter how many times I get asked “Where the bush dogs at?” tomorrow morning, I promise to be smiling and in a good mood.

It’s National Zookeeper Week, how can I not be?!

Be sure to keep an eye on the blog for more surprises later in the week!