A zoo is like a microcosm of the world outside its perimeter fence. Words of wisdom that apply outside in the regular world also apply inside but with a zoo-twist.

“You never know who is listening, so choose your words wisely.” Once something has been said, it can’t be taken back. This can apply generally to things said in anger that might hurt another’s feelings, or to surprises that aren’t ready to be sprung yet. Those applications work at the zoo, too, but it also applies in another way. The zoo uses two-way radios for much of its communication. Anyone around a zoo employee who is wearing a radio can hear the transmissions. If a zookeeper is standing in line at the grocery store to purchase a bag of apples, it might not be the best time to have details of a siamang’s gastric upset transmitted in graphic detail over the radio.

“Always be aware of your surroundings.” Usually you think of this after dark in parking lots or going down an alley, but it has special meaning at all hours in the zoo. Keepers and maintenance staff who will be in animal enclosures are taught they always need to have an exit strategy any time they’re in an exhibit, even if the animal is locked inside the den or barn. The proximity to the animals and the situations that can develop mean staff need to be ready for anything. After all, they’re in the animal’s territory.

What are you going to do if something breaks or someone makes a mistake and the animal in holding ends up in the yard with you? Can you get over the fence quicker than the excited gaur can get to you? If the exhibit is surrounded by a dry moat and you jump down into it to get away from the upset protective mother giraffe on the upper level of the exhibit, can you get out over the other side of the moat quicker than she can get in the moat after you? In a topped pen, can you climb the side of the cage and along the cage top to a point where the jaguar (an apex predator) can’t launch up from the ground or surrounding exhibit furniture and grab you? (You’ll also need to hang there until help comes.) Is there even a place out of reach where you can employ this method? The time to come up with a plan is before it happens, not while the animal chases you.

“Dangling jewelry can pose a hazard around machinery and babies” (humans, in this case). Dangling jewelry, long mufflers (scarves), anything that can catch on something or be grabbed and pulled, even a ponytail, can be fair game at the zoo if you’re in close enough proximity to certain animals, which the staff often are. Primates or other animals will get ahold of it and yank. (Ouch!) Even a ring can be hazardous if it gets caught and peeled up your finger when you’re trying to climb over the top of an eight-foot chainlink fence rather than reach through to the other side and unlock it so you can open it and walk through. (Big ouch!)

“Always watch where you’re going.” We’ve all seen videos of someone walking into a post while texting or something similar. While that applies at the zoo also, there’s another angle, too. When releasing any animal from a holding pen or from manual restraint, make sure they have a clear path. You don’t want them running or flying straight into a wall as they try to put some distance between you or enjoy their first run of the day. The same behavior can be seen in children when they get out of the car after a long ride or are leaving the doctor’s office after receiving a vaccination. Set birds down on the ground, then release. Don’t let them drop from your hands or throw them into the air. If they aren’t ready, the landing can be hazardous. Make sure obstacles are out of the way, giving the release the best chance of success.

“Be sure to offer clarification when communication is not clear.” Clarification may be necessary for some, even in situations where you feel you have been extremely clear. We all have different points of reference and different experiences that provide context so we don’t all see situations or information the same. Asking someone to ”go get a net” after they’ve just told you one of the curious red pandas is investigating areas outside of its enclosure seems fairly clear and one would think expected. But if the person receiving that instruction responds with a quizzical look and asks, “Whose Annette?” then clarification is needed.

“Always say please and thank you” — while it’s a sign of good manners, it also acknowledges the voluntary helpfulness of others. “Please pass the salt.” “Thank you for opening the door for me since my hands are full with all these groceries.” At the zoo, these may be heard in other instances, but with the same intent: “Thank you for helping with the kangaroo pouch check.”

“Please stay on the public side of the fence.”

And another perfect example I can offer: Thank you for your support.

Please have a happy holiday season.

Please visit www.leerichardsonzoo.org for zoo updates and events.