Parenting gone Wild

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about jobs, and the blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

tori_week6_picBeing a parent is hard work. It’s like having multiple jobs in one. You have the responsibilities of a chauffeur, nurse, and chef all at the same time. I can only assume that being a parent can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding to see your child grow up and achieve special milestones. Zoo keepers are similar in that they watch over animals and make sure all of their needs are met. They have to feed, clean up after, and love the animals they take care of just like parents care for their children.

Interns met with Torrey Pillsbury, Senior Mammal Keeper, and Jennifer Minichino, Senior Mammal Keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We were given the opportunity to see what they do on a regular basis, including hand-feeding giraffes and rhinos! After spending a couple hours with them, I realized that the tasks they do resemble the ones that parents do. It is their job to provide food for the animals, make sure they have water, keep their exhibits clean, and make sure the animals are safe. First thing in the morning, Ms. Pillsbury loads her keeper truck with hay, alfalfa, about ten bags of pellets, and acacia leaves to feed the animals in her area. She also makes sure the exhibits are clean and that nothing is broken or out of place. To make sure that each animal is healthy, the keepers need to watch for behavioral changes such as an animal not eating. If an animal is acting different it could mean that he or she is sick. Any behavioral changes that a keeper notices are recorded in a notebook so that all keepers can watching over that animal are in the loop.

Parents have to make sure their children are safe at all times by constantly keeping an eye on them. Keepers also have to keep an eye on the animals by counting them each day to make sure that one hasn’t escaped or to see if a baby was born. You must be wondering how a keeper knows which animal is which when most of them look exactly the same. That is the purpose of the ear tagging and notching system. Each color tag and ear each notch means a specific number. Right after a baby is born, a keeper puts a tag in the bay’s ear, which is a similar process to getting your ears pierced. A keeper then clips specific parts of the baby’s ear to correspond with its number. This way the keepers will know exactly which animal is which in the wide-open exhibits.

Keepers also can develop special relationships with the animals. Ms. Pillsbury helped to hand raise a gorilla named Jamani because her mother was unable to properly care for her. Being hand-raised is when a human assist with raising an otherwise wild animal. When Jamani got older and was transferred to the North Carolina Zoo, of course Ms. Pillsbury was sad to see her go, but she knew she was going to a good zoo that would look after her. Now, Jamani has her own baby and is taking good care of her, which can be sometimes difficult for hand-raised animals. Sometimes hand-raised animals don’t know how to be a mother because they weren’t around their biological mother. Ms. Pillsbury was very happy and proud to see Jamani achieve this goal of becoming a mother.

Being a keeper isn’t always easy. They have to feed the animals, clean their exhibits, and make sure that they are safe. However, with these challenges come great rewards such as watching animals grown up, and sometimes being within touching distance of wild animals.  Parents and keepers are alike in that they have others that depend on them for their care and attention. In any career you will face challenges, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.

Tori, Real World Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2014