Are Zookeepers Essential Workers

Paul Gonzalez
• Saturday, 07 November, 2020
• 8 min read

Those are two things you normally can't find this time of year at the Saint Louis Zoo. “We refer to them as keepers but these are really very passionate scientists that have spent years of their life training,” explained Luis Padilla.

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Keepers, veterinarians and veterinary technicians are all among the essential personnel, putting aside their own health concerns to take care of these animals. “If there's a task that can't be accomplished by one person without violating social distance, we have practices that are very similar to what health care workers would be doing,” Padilla told us.

Zookeepers, veterinarians and veterinary technicians are putting aside their own health concerns to care for the animals Even with the coronavirus pandemic lurking in the background, zookeeper Indie Hagen still finds beauty and wonder among the animals.

At the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Hagen works in the Cheetah Encounter, caring for and feeding the big cats as a way to help preserve the vulnerable species. She led InsideEdition.com on visual journey of her work life, on a bright, sunny day resplendent with hundreds of blooming tulips dotting the closed facility.

“Usually during this time we are open, and we are doing runs every day for people to come see the amazing speed of the cheetah. The virus has wrought significant change for the people working at the zoo in southern Ohio.

The zookeepers work in shifts of two, in different parts of the park, wearing protective gear “so that we never overlap with each other (and) in case any of us get sick, it doesn't wipe out our whole department,” she said. The zookeeper also stopped by to help feed Fiona the hippo, the animal sanctuary's most famous resident.

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She is the first Nile hippo to be born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 75 years, and the first of the species to be scanned in the womb using ultrasound. The tiny hippopotamus was born premature in 2017, and photos and video of her adorable antics and remarkable survival made her an international sensation.

“We hear that at InsideEdition.com that you guys really like Fiona, so she came out to say hi,” Hagen said, introducing the famous hippo as the 3-year-old chomped away on a meal of vegetables and fruit. Those are two things you normally can't find this time of year at the Saint Louis Zoo.

“We refer to them as keepers but these are really very passionate scientists that have spent years of their life training,” explained Luis Padilla. Keepers, veterinarians and veterinary technicians are all among the essential personnel, putting aside their own health concerns to take care of these animals.

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMD)–When we hear essential workers, many think nurses, grocery store employees, but they may not think of zookeepers. “Without us coming and feeding these guys they wouldn’t survive,” said animal curator of Peoria Zoo, Kim Scott.

Zookeepers at the Peoria Zoo come in every day to feed and interact with the animals while the public is not allowed in. “They (the animals) don’t know this is going on, and it might actually stress them out quite a bit if we change things up completely so keeping them on a schedule is important,” Lynn said.

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The zookeepers are taking extra precautions when feeding certain animals such as primates and bats because they are more at risk of getting the COVID-19 coronavirus from humans. One of the things we’ve implemented is our keepers now wear masks and gloves when they’re servicing the primate groups,” Scott said.

A zookeeper is responsible for ensuring the care of animals within the facilities and overseeing their well-being. Additionally, a zookeeper works to educate visitors about the animals as well as their diet and natural habitats.

A zookeeper generally has a high school diploma or equivalent education. Many zookeepers who care for specialized or endangered species possess a bachelor's degree in the field of life science including biology or zoology.

Individuals who enjoy caring for and working with animals and have patience tend to excel in the position of a zookeeper. British zoos have introduced strict social distancing rules to protect animals from coronavirus after the feared death of a tiger and increased risks to great apes and monkeys.

New rules are expected at zoos and conservation parks after the coronavirus pandemic subsides requiring a 10-metre social distance between human visitors and great apes because they are so susceptible to our respiratory diseases. Apes like the family of four western lowland gorillas at London zoo share 98 per cent of human DNA and during the Ebola virus epidemic between 1994 and 2003 in Central Africa, they are believed to have lost up to a third of their populations to the disease.

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Lesley Craig, a researcher at Stirling University, said practices that allowed visitors to zoos or conservation parks close contact with apes and monkeys would have to change. They care for a diverse range of animals from large and dangerous to rare and exotic.

Salaries for trainee zookeepers at entry level are around £13,000 to £16,000 a year. Conditions You would work both indoors, sometimes in tropically heated enclosures, and outdoors, in all weather.

You may have to work shifts, with early starts and late finishes, especially in summer when zoos and wildlife parks are open for longer. You can take a full time college course before starting work.

The UNC and HND require 1-2 Highers or an NC in animal care. You may need a full, clean driving license, particularly for a wildlife or safari park.

Dedicated passionate about animal welfare and conservation confident about dealing with both large and small animals reliable and responsible safety conscious observant able to communicate with visitors, both children and adults, and to answer questions physically fit able to deal with unpleasant conditions and not be squeamish. This may be combined with part-time attendance at college for a relevant Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVP) or an NC or UNC.

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If you are on a Modern Apprenticeship, you would normally train for a relevant SVP such as Animal Care at CQF Levels 5 and 6. You could do a Foundation Degree in Zoo Management at Reaseheath College in Sandwich, Cheshire.

You could do the 2-year Diploma in Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals, offered by Sparsely College (Hampshire) and the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BI AZA). You need to be working in a zoo or aquarium due to the practical elements of the course.

This folk wisdom is valid in any workplace and in any situation, especially when you are working in a zoo where many people come to observe animals. Zoo visitors can easily recognize zookeepers and ask them for information or assistance.

A wider understanding and knowledge about the characteristics of the Animal Kingdom becomes part of the zookeeper’s professional expertise. Zookeepers should know of all the taxonomic groups of animals kept in their respective zoos, including the various species held and their approximate numbers.

Such knowledge helps not only to answer visitor’s questions but is also useful when needed to develop educational resources like zookeeper talks. This competence demands specific knowledge, extensive understanding and practical experience.

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Every day you need to follow specific rules of the feeding regimen and since not all zoos have a nutritionist, the zookeeper is sometimes responsible for designing the diets. To prepare a feed ration you need to know the nutrition facts and observe how it affects the animal.

You are the one who can notice if an animal behaves well, has a healthy and shiny coat and whether its poop looks ok. A huge responsibility! You create a bond between yourself and the animal which reduces stress, and you know that you take care of its health not only physically but mentally as well.

Or special considerations (needs of mixed species exhibits or climate) must be considered by zookeepers before the animal is accommodated. Knowing and believing in the mission that zoos globally take care of endangered species, makes your daily routine tasks all the easier.

Even if you’re tired of cleaning the enclosure, simply knowing that your efforts will protect future populations provides the motivation to insure excellence in our work. When your zoo supports in situ projects, you can always dream of going deep in the jungle to save, for example, the Paola from extinction.

It’s a huge responsibility to talk to the public not only about an individual animal, typically during feeding shows, but also about its importance for future populations. Visitors don’t usually know much about the efforts made by zoos to support wildlife and preventing their extinction.

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The 10 mentioned competencies are just a small part of what professional keepers need to know. The work of a zookeeper is complex, requiring a great deal of knowledge and practical skills.

However, in certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Netherlands, there are educational institutions offering well-developed study programs for future zookeepers. Without a clear framework for training, there is the risk of passing on outdated or inadequate information and skills to new zookeepers.

Zookeepers, whether working in zoos or involved in animal management training, can contribute towards development of the Educational Modules. All you need is a phone, tablet or computer with internet access and some time to review the material.

PeterGiljam Peter is a passionate Animal Consultant that beside teaching you about Operant Conditioning makes sure you will go home motivated and inspired.

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