A few lessons on life from the zoo

3/7/2014

I work at a zoo. Maybe your work or home life at times seems like a "zoo" too. If so, maybe you can relate to these observations from the zoo world.

I work at a zoo. Maybe your work or home life at times seems like a "zoo" too. If so, maybe you can relate to these observations from the zoo world.

You don't have to be best buds with everyone. But it's wise to do your best to get along. You never know who you might need to come to rescue you from a trio of cranky capuchins, a protective mother giraffe or a rampaging gaur.

Everyone's an individual, whether they're part of a pride of lions, a mob of kangaroos or a gaggle of geese. Get to know each one as the unique being that they are. This applies to people, too.

Always be aware of your surroundings. If you're lucky, it's just a baby alpaca running up behind you to steal your gloves out of your back pocket. But if not, you need to be prepared.

Don't stick your fingers where they don't belong, like into a carnivore's cage, and especially not around feeding time. Even if you lose your balance or trip and fall, know what to do to help yourself. Fall like you were taught at the roller rink — fingers curled into a fist so if you end up catching yourself against the mesh you present a flat surface, with no tasty tidbits going through to the other side.

Take care of your stuff (tools, vehicles, etc.) and put it away properly. It will last longer and work better for you. It won't become a trip hazard if put away properly. Plus if the zoo doesn't have to spend money to replace it, we will have more funds for other needed items.

Odds are you're going to do something that looks foolish at some time (slip and fall in the mud while trying to catch a duck, trip over a feeder while herding alpacas, drop a whole stack of fresh food pans, etc.). Odds are even better that there will be a group of people around when you do it. Just accept the fact it's going to happen and folks may even laugh. Try to smile through it, even laugh with them. There's really no harm done and getting embarrassed or upset doesn't help anything.

Watch for signs of changes from the normal patterns in those around you. They may be subtle but there could be clues that something is going on (health or social issues) if you pay close attention. Has the other jaguar been coming inside first for the last few days? Is the older bobcat moving just a little slower than he used to? Are the barbet's feathers fluffier than usual? Is the female spider monkey grabbing a bit of food and high-tailing it to the other side of the exhibit before she settles to eat?

Clean up your messes as soon as you can. The longer it sits there, the worse it will get. What started out as a handful of spilled pelleted chow on the commissary floor becomes broken little bits that are harder to clean up and get mixed in with dirt and mud from numerous boots that have gone through the area during the day and now all of it needs to be swept up. If left long enough, you'll get to deal with broken, itty-bitty bits of spilled chow, dirt, mud, and now there are ants, too! Put this situation outdoors instead of indoors and mold can become a problem, too, not to mention wild or feral animals that might be attracted to the food bits. Messes get worse with time and are easier to clean up while they're small — even if you have to take a quick moment out of your day to do it right then, rather than come back later when you can plan to deal with it (if your day goes as you planned, which is a rarity).

If doing a potentially stressful procedure (settling a gorilla in a transport crate, feather clipping a swan, shearing an alpaca, pulling crane eggs to be candled, etc.), always try to do it in the cooler part of the day. Eliminating as many potentially stressful elements as possible (i.e. the heat), helps set you up for success. Even if you've done a procedure before and it went off without a hitch, don't assume there won't be issues this time. Always plan for the worst but hope for the best in whatever you do. If you simply count on things going well and don't consider the other possibilities — "we did it the other day and it went fine so it will go fine this time" — odds are you will regret it sooner or later.

Don't jump to conclusions. Stick to the facts as best as you can without adding your own interpretation (which can vary widely among individuals). Be accurate with your information without exaggeration. Someone saying the "bird attacked me" is very different from (and more dramatic than) the "bird pecked at my shoe once and then pulled my shoestring twice and walked away."

When you're running behind is not the time to skimp on what's important. When you decide you don't have time to check the containment of the exhibit is when there will be a problem. It's safety first, no matter what.

No matter how you spend your day, hopefully you can find some interesting insight in these reflections that you can apply to your own "zoo."

Please visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org for updates on zoo happenings.

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