When someone says "It's a zoo out there," it usually means things are going a little crazy, or even out of control. As someone who has worked in the zoo profession for many years, I can tell you we do our best to maintain a level of normalcy each and every day. We do accept, though, that no two days are exactly alike in the zoo world. Between all the animals, staff, visitors and Mother Nature, there's always something different going on, so some variation is actually normal for us. Even still, there are days that qualify as roller coasters for us, no matter how hard we try to keep things on an even keel.
Recently we had a day that would definitely qualify as a Class 1 roller coaster. For me, the day started out with a staff meeting. Education, Administration, Maintenance and Animal Division, as well as FOLRZ (Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo) representatives getting together making sure we're on the same page for the week. Good reports on Blues at the Zoo 3 and Global Bazaar, Zoo Edventures (week-long zoo camps) going well (all full but the seventh/eighth-grade session), red pandas going out on exhibit later that day, pronghorn fawns doing well in quarantine, working on fences at Cat Canyon, preparing for Fourth of July, etc. So the roller coaster is starting out fairly controlled and starting to go up.
After the meeting, I moved on to the initial release of our young pair of red pandas into their new exhibit. Watching them explore their new exhibit made everyone present smile and feel a sense of accomplishment. The keepers and maintenance staff had worked hard to turn the old macaque exhibit into an expansive environment where the red pandas could roam, climb, snooze and munch bamboo. Their efforts were appreciated by the red pandas and any who walked by that day as Hammy and Ember were checking out their new digs. It was fun watching Hammy romp around the yard, climbing up and down, going round and round the boulders, looking at this, sniffing at that. Ember had a more controlled response, but it was still enjoyable watching her stroll through the grass, nibble on bamboo and look over her new territory. (Spoiler alert: this was definitely the big high for the day.) The roller coaster is way up high where you can see everything for miles; the sky is clear and the weather is just right.
The day progressed with run-of-the-mill things: going through daily reports, checking scheduling for the next few weeks, preparing to interview candidates for an open position, looking in on the new pronghorn fawns, watching the rhino wallow in his new mudhole — so some level track and some little ups and downs and gentle curves as the day's roller coaster progressed.
About midday, one of the keepers responded to a report from a visitor that one of the birds in the aviary was having trouble. Some bird behaviors can be misinterpreted, but it's always wise to check just in case. In this case the roadrunner was indeed injured so it was gently transported to the clinic where the veterinarian examined him. While this was going on I was off grounds at lunch and getting ready to go into a training session so there were some quick sharp hairpin turns for me going between "do I need to go back or not" (no, staff had it under control so the track straightened out again). The track went up with the staff ably handling the situation, and the public being concerned enough to find someone to report their observations to. The down, of course, was that we had an injured animal.
The training session was on leadership and the presenter was pretty entertaining. There's always something more to learn if you're open to it. I count the opportunity to learn more as an "up" for the day. What goes up always comes down, but I didn't suspect how far down. The veterinarian's report on the roadrunner's injury, multiple injuries actually, came through. The roadrunner was going to have to be euthanized due to multiple injuries caused by malicious trauma suspected to be from a member of the public. Now if that report doesn't send your day plummeting and spiraling straight down into the pits, I don't know what does.
A police report was filed; necropsy and disposition forms were filled out, the daily reports for the day were completed. The routine of filling out regular paperwork (that definitely does not include the police report) brings the day back to a more level track. After the training session I checked in with the bird's primary keeper who was, needless to say, disturbed by the turn of the day's events but she was handling it like a professional, as were all the other keepers and staff members. "Elmer" the roadrunner was quite a personable little bird and had been at the zoo for a little over eight years. He greeted those who came to the aviary, staff and visitors alike, often presenting twigs or feathers to keepers he knew. His lively personality and amusing antics could brighten the worst day. He had many friends and admirers among the staff and zoo visitors.
Just the day before I had been telling two new seasonal employees that our visitors are well behaved and our community cares a lot about the zoo. I still stand by that in spite of this aberration. Watching the staff respond professionally to the events of the day (as I knew they would) and focusing on the visitors that showed concern for the bird, as the vast majority of our visitors would, helped pull the day out of the pits and returned the roller coaster to level ground. The roller coaster pulled back into the gate to unload and then start again on another day.
To our visitors and community who care about the zoo and its inhabitants, who appreciate and want to learn more about the wonders of wildlife: Thank you. You are an "up" on the roller coaster of my day.
(As a follow-up note: If anyone has any information about what happened to the roadrunner, we'd appreciate hearing it. Even just writing about this has put a damper on the day. It's driven me to chocolate and now I need to go watch the elephants, the eagle, the siamangs or someone to get back on an even keel.)
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