Someone asked me the other day what keeps me excited about coming to work each day. After mulling over the question for a few minutes, I had my answer. Sure, I get to see charismatic elephants, majestic lions, playful spider monkeys and personable roadrunners each day and that's a big part of it. But at the heart of it, that's not all that keeps me motivated. Each day I have a chance to make a difference.
"What difference is that?" you may ask. Here's where it gets fun. It varies within each day. I may be helping arrange for a new species to come to Lee Richardson Zoo or picking up trash out in the zoo so our visitors have a more enjoyable experience. The keepers and I may be discussing new enrichment options for the sloth bears to keep the bears mentally and physically in shape or I may be able to help open a stuck lock. Sometimes making a difference is pretty involved; other times it's the simple, little things.
Seeing a child smile while he watches the lemur sunning herself against a log and knowing I helped make that happen. Explaining to a little girl why she really doesn't want a Goeldi's monkey, or any primate for that matter, as a pet (if you don't like housework now, believe me, if you add a non-human primate to the mix, you're in for a whole different world of cleanup and that's just the most obvious reason).
Working through the details of Cat Canyon and knowing how much the cats, the zoo staff and the community will enjoy it when it's done. Designing emergency drills to help prepare personnel for the events none of us want to have happen. Recycling aluminum cans or walking to a meeting on the other side of the zoo rather than driving, it all makes a difference.
Passing on knowledge gained from years of experience or acknowledging the good ideas of others. Telling someone they did a good job or giving a visitor directions to the nearest snake exhibit where they can be enthralled by the green tree python.
Sometimes we overcommit ourselves, or get caught up in "keeping up with the Joneses," having to decide what's for dinner (again) or worrying how the future is going to play out. All of that can be quite mind numbing. It's especially at those times that we need to focus on the difference we can each make — big or little.
Each of us can't be Albert Einstein or Mother Teresa, but in our own little way we can make the world a better place. If you've ever put a quarter in the feeders at the duck pond or goldfish pond at the zoo, you've helped make a difference. The monies from those feeders have gone to conservation efforts in Kansas, Madagascar, Asia and elsewhere in the world. Ever recycled a plastic bottle or aluminum can? You've made a difference. Have you used the comics section of the newspaper as wrapping paper for a gift, smiled at someone new in town and said "Hi"? You've made a difference.
I firmly believe in the saying "what goes around comes around," the Golden Rule or karma, however you want to look at it. Making a positive difference is important. When the world starts getting too busy, too serious or seems out of control, focus on the good in the world. Don't focus on the giant trash heap floating in the Pacific, but rather what you can do to keep from contributing to it. Don't focus on the poaching of animals in the wild, but what you can do to save wildlife, how you can pass along your respect for wildlife to others. And when all else fails, take a few minutes to come down to the zoo and follow the example of the lemur. Lean back and soak up the sun; then with renewed spirit, go out and make a difference. Our outlook for each day and what sort of difference we make in the world are up to each of us.
Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.