Why did you become a zoo keeper?
I always had a love for animals, and especially the big cats. I had all sorts of animals when I was growing up, and I loved caring for them.
How did you become a zoo keeper?
I live very close to the Nashville Zoo and started volunteering there with the Carnivore Department. I eventually worked my way into a job.
How can I become a zoo keeper?
It can be very difficult to get a start in zoo keeping. The best thing that I can recommend is education and experience. You can get animal experience by volunteering at your local zoo, at your local humane association or even a veterinary clinic. Don't expect to go in and know everything right off and have animal contact, but be willing to do whatever they need you to do. Check with your local university for animal science courses and get as much education as possible in animal related courses. You can also search on the Internet for the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and read their information.
What do zoo keepers do?
Zoo keepers do whatever is needed to care for their animals. Most of our routine would be cleaning the animal's enclosures - both their inside and outside areas, providing clean water and food, making sure their enclosures are secure and safe - both for the animal and people. We also observe the animals. We get to know them so well, that if they do anything out of the ordinary, we are aware and watching for signs that could indicate illness, desire to breed, etc. At our zoo, the keepers also assist the veterinary staff when there are medical procedures to be done. This could mean just routine check-ups or a problem that might require surgery. We also maintain their exhibits and holding areas by mowing, repairing, painting, etc.
How much do zoo keepers make?
Zoo keepers make different amounts, depending on their amount of education, their experience, the amount of time they have been with the zoo, etc. Again, the AZA and AAZK links are helpful here, because they post job openings that tell salaries.
What do you like best about being a zoo keeper?
I really enjoy knowing I'm taking care of these fantastic animals. I can tell I do a good job when the animal thrives and seems content.
What do you like least about being a zoo keeper?
I dislike having to work in all kinds of weather. It would be nice to not have to get out in the rain or ice or storms, but the animals are depending on the keepers. We also sometimes have to work long hours - I have worked a lot of 11 hour days before - but you can't just stop taking care of the animals until everything gets done.
What does your family think of your profession?
My family seems to be proud of what I do. I'm sure it is hard on them sometimes when they expect me home at 5:00 and I don't make it home till 7:00 or later. I also have to work sometimes on holidays and be away from them. They don't complain - - much. :)
How many animals do you take care of?
Right now I take care of about 40 cats, ranging in size from lions and tigers to servals and caracals (smaller cats).
What is your favorite animal?
I love all of the cats (and other animals too), but my favorites would have to be clouded leopards and snow leopards.
Have you ever been injured by an animal?
Over the years, I've always had scratches and bruises that I get from the animals. Most of the cats I care for I can't go in the cage with them because they are too big and dangerous. I get scratched often from the little cats that reach through the fence. The worst injury I've ever had was having my finger bitten by a 300 pound tiger. He didn't do it to try to get me, but my finger got in the way and was too close to his food. He bit all the way to the bone and I had to have stitches to repair my finger. I was lucky though because he could easily have bitten it off.
What do your animals eat?
The cats eat only raw (uncooked) meat. They eat beef ( big chunks like roasts), chicken (either whole or chicken pieces), rabbits (already killed), and trout.
Are your animals friendly, can you go in with them?
Most of the cats I care for are friendly, but that doesn't make them safe or tame. The big cats like the tigers could kill me just playing with me. Some of the smaller cats like the clouded leopards, caracals and servals are friendly and like for me to come in and pat them. However, I have to always watch out for them, because they could hurt me very badly if they wanted to.
Do wild animals make good pets?
Wild animals do not make good pets. They have never been domesticated like a dog or cat has been. People do keep them sometimes, but it takes a lot of knowledge and respect for the animals to be able to do this.
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