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Backstage at the zoo--Thanksgiving morning

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  • Backstage at the zoo--Thanksgiving morning

    Thanksgiving morning may well end up being one of the high points of my life. Charitable friends invited me for the holiday, and the he is a rather high level manager at the Memphis zoo. There is a tradition there that the managers and supervisors, especially those without children at home, will do the cleaning and feeding chores so the low level keepers can have holidays free with their families. If I'm there, sometimes I'm allowed to go with them and help.

    Thursday morning we got up at 5:30 and got to the zoo at about 6. I got tours of the water treatment system (German ozone style) for the sea lion and polar bear tanks, the giant panda computer room, and spent much of the time there cleaning up the giraffe pen. I learned SO much about poop. Giraffes make little individual pellets that are rod shaped but only about 3/4 inch long. When you think how huge these animals are--and they are enormous--, you realize that they are much like their relatives, goats, in how they excrete their leavings. They also have very long, very blue gray prehensile tongues that they can curl around branches, fruit and fingers. Each one has a coat pattern that is just as individual as a human fingerprint. Anyhow, I got up close and personal with a family of giraffes. And learned from the experts that loading giraffes in trailers can be H*LL.

    I could have cleaned up after zebras and bleeboks (?) and Oryx as those were on the list, but we females needed to go home and cook for Thanksgiving dinner with other old and new friends.

    But the VERY best was getting close to a female giant panda in the backstage area and being allowed to offer her a "leaf eaters" biscuit, which she took directly from my hand. Learned a bit about panda poop, also. It is, as you would expect, a medium green and VERY green; and it's cone shaped. I also got to give the langurs biscuits (a large black primate with a white tuft on the head whose arms and legs and tails are all very long and thin). Their faces look just the same as a gorilla, only in miniature. Here is an article about the ones I met:

    I've done hippos and elephants and antelopes of different kinds with my friends on holiday mornings before, but I've never, ever gotten , and probably never, ever will get, to offer a treat to a giant panda and be touched by it. This is an experience I'll treasure.
    Last edited by vineyridge; Nov. 26, 2011, 01:40 PM.
    "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
    Thread killer Extraordinaire

  • #2
    What a fantastic experience! Sounds like a lot of fun.


    • #3
      I'm jealous!

      What a nice thing for the managers & supervisors to do for their employees for the holiday.
      ~ A true friend knows all there is to know about you and still likes you. -E. Hubbard


      • #4
        How incredibly cool! On all fronts... What a fabulous experience.
        Kanoe Godby
        See, I was raised by wolves and am really behind the 8-ball on diplomatic issue resolution.


        • #5
          How cool! I'm jealous too.
          exploring the relationship between horse and human


          • #6
            i worked at our local zoo a million years ago with the giraffe. at that time the policy was 'wild animals should be treated like wild animals', but no one told joey the giraffe. many times i would be hosing down his pen and he would be in his 'holding pen' adjacent to the one i was in. i would be lost in my thoughts of trying to herd the poo over to the drain when i would feel something warm and moist licking my neck. yup, the 'wild' giraffle was leaning over giving me a wet willie.
            unfortunately, the zoo ended up losing most of it's funding and joey went to the san diego zoo. years later my friends went to the zoo and took pictures of all the critters including the herd of giraffe. i could pick joey out by his distinctive 'triangle' blotch on his wither.
            okay, add that to my 'animals i want list'................
            R.I.P. my sweet boy Tristan
            36 years old, but I was hoping you'd live forever


            • #7
              I will go back to zookeeping one day for the reasons you said its an absolutely wonderful, magical experience and you are reminded how vast and varying all of our species are on the planet.

              I threw out my back so I moved to the medical side of animal work for now, but my time working with the gorillas has always been an important one to me; they painted a picture for my birthday and it still hangs over my bed.

              For us animal lovers especially, its always great to experience new opportunities. So glad you had the chance--lucky you!


              • #8
                This is such a great post for a variety of reasons.

                First, I read the whole thing with gusto, being especially interested in the poop shapes.

                Second, that this was posted on a forum where there are lots of folks who would really appreciate it.

                Third, on one of my only trips to the zoo behind the scenes, I kept thinking that the lions really needed grooming. My host explained that it was hard to get vols to be enthusiastic about that.

                Fourth, as a deterrent to overeating on the Thanksgiving Day leftovers, this post was right up there with the Dr. Spock descriptions of bodily fluids which accounted for my quick post baby weight loss.

                Thanks for sharing. I'm jealous.


                • #9
                  Wow!! What a cool experience!!!


                  • #10
                    The Toronto zoo does 'keeper for a day', which isn't as much a personal experience like you got but was a LOT of fun.

                    Horse people are the only people in the world that would think cleaning up exotic animal poop was a treat...

                    The only part I wasn't too thrilled with was feeding the softshell african turtles horse sausages .
                    "For some people it's not enough to just be a horse's bum, you have to be sea biscuit's bum" -anon.
                    Nes' Farm Blog ~ DesigNes.ca
                    Need You Now Equine


                    • #11
                      Wow, Viney what a lovely day indeed! I'm happy for you and jealous all at the same time.

                      The only pandas I have seen were at the national zoo, in their old habitat, and I was just mesmerized watching them.
                      There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams


                      • #12
                        Very cool day and thank you for sharing!

                        Would love to work at a zoo some day!

                        A Wandering Albertan - NEW Africa travel blog!


                        • Original Poster

                          I really hadn't considered how weird the post might seem with the emphasis on poop, but so much horsekeeping is poop-centric that it didn't cross my mind how other kinds of people might take it. Quite honestly, the different types of poop and pooping styles fascinate me.

                          I told a non horse friend that the bright red, very convoluted rectum of foals and very young horses that is exposed when they poop reminds me of peonies. She was just a bit shocked.
                          "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay."
                          Thread killer Extraordinaire