Parting is Such Sticky Sorrow

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Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest Journals. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

As with all good things, Zoo InternQuest has come to an end. After seven memorable weeks as an intern for the Zoological Society of San Diego, I’ve realized just how much work, time, and effort goes into caring for the animals and plants that we’ve come to know and love. Whether it be in the lab, the kitchen, or the field, the staff at the Zoo all play a part in taking care of our furry, feathered, and foreign friends. Though they don’t all have the pleasure of interacting with their animal benefices, there are a lucky few who do. And who are they? Why, the animal keepers of course.

The animal keepers at the Zoo are the unsung heroes of the day. Just ask Torrey Pillsbury and Michele Gaffney. Feeding runs, keeper reports, sample collection, these ladies do it all! After an excursion through the Wild Animal Park’s Heart of Africa and India in the back of a keeper truck, we found that there’s more to being a keeper than scooping up poop.

Bumping around the dusty path in the back of the truck, we made our way through the Park with the wind blowing through our hair and smiles on our faces. They grew even bigger when we pulled up to a group of giraffes, munching loosely on boughs and eyeing us through their long eyelashes. Ms. Pilsbury pulled out a bucket of leaves, and though it took a little persuasion and soft words, we were soon feeding the gentle giants,   their rough tongues covering our hands in saliva  (right).

Keepers, you might say, are the eyes and ears of the Zoo, noting and observing the day-to-day activities that go on. They must keep a sharp eye out to see if any babies have been born, or any deaths have occurred. They watch for unusual behaviors, such as isolation or if an animal isn’t eating, in addition to any visible medical issues that may arise. All of this information is dutifully recorded in keeper record books. It sounds like a lot of work, but the time the keepers get to spend with the animals is worth the effort, as we quickly saw upon touring through the Park. To have such a vast array of animals, all with different personalities, some shy, some friendly, under one’s care is an amazing responsibility. Though Ms. Gaffney has a Master’s degree, an Associate’s degree is the only required education to become a keeper.

Claire, Careers Team