National Zoo Keepers Week 2019
By Joe Nappi
July 25, 2019
The daily routine of a zoo keeper is a busy one! Each species in our care has its own unique needs. Keepers have to learn to be able to read their behavior, prepare appropriate diets, train behaviors that help us care for our animals, and provide enrichment items that promote natural behaviors. Outlined here is a typical day in the life of a mammal keeper at the Bronx Zoo.
Our day begins with catching up on the previous day’s daily report and outlining the goals of the day among the keeper team. Then it is off to check all the animals and make sure that each individual looks healthy and happy. Breakfast is prepared for those species that have a breakfast meal, with each receiving its own specialized diet.
For example, our aardvarks receive a mixture of mealworms, insectivore pellets, and avocado, the giraffes receive a wild herbivore grain, while our carnivores receive a specialized zoo-based carnivore diet. Several morning, training sessions take place before the animals go on exhibit. We train our carnivores, such as tigers and spotted hyenas, to do a number of different behaviors including to lay down, sit, step on a scale and receive voluntary injections.
Gorillas are taught to present different portions of their body for their keepers to inspect and allow their chests to be ultrasounded to monitor heart activity. Elephants are given a morning training and bath session. Training helps to cement trust and respect between the keepers and the animals, while enabling us to provide better care for them.
One of the busiest times of the day revolves around setting up the exhibit spaces. This includes making sure the exhibits are clean and safe for our animals. We also insure that there is plenty of hay for our hoofed species such as the various deer, antelope and wild cattle to eat throughout the day.
Novel enrichment and food items are often scattered and hidden around the exhibits. All the animals must be out by the time the park opens at 10:00. During the late morning we clean all of the animal’s bedrooms. This consists of sweeping up all the old hay, soiled wood shavings, removing manure, cleaning water bowls, and scrubbing stalls.
“Training helps to cement trust and respect between the keepers and the animals, while enabling us to provide better care for them.”
After we refuel with a mid-day lunch, the keeper team finishes cleaning, tidying up our buildings and restocking all the hay, shavings, and food items we will need to utilize the following day. Once all our cleaning is done, we typically do a lot of our extra projects, including setting up and providing mid-day enrichment, and doing afternoon training sessions.
Many keepers will go browsing during this time. There are over thirty different species of trees, vines and shrubs that we provide to our different species, including many of the leaf eating primates, and of course bamboo for our red pandas. Another important aspect of the day is interacting with our visitors. Keepers help connect guests to our animals and inspire the next generation of conservationists.
The end of the day consists of setting up the night time quarters for our animals. This includes spreading out meat for our carnivores, sorting out bugs for our insectivores, preparing fruit for our frugivorous bat species and pouring grain for our hoofstock. We will also set up enrichment for our animals to enjoy overnight.
After all the animals are safely inside, we fill out our daily animal care report, document the enrichment we provided throughout the day, and write notes that are pertinent for the next day’s keeper crew. It certainly is a busy day being a keeper!