What is a Zookeeper?
In honor of National Zoo Keeper Week, July 15-21, 2018, I wanted to share something I wrote several years ago in a social media post, so here it is.
Actually, wait. Before we get too far into this, let's clear something up right now. Is it Zoo Keeper or Zookeeper? The answer is yes. And sometimes, it depends how you are using it. In some dictionaries, the definition for Zoo Keeper and Zookeeper are the same. Another source puts Zookeeper as one employed by a zoo to care for the animals. And when you look up Zoo Keeper in that same source it says, see Zookeeper. Not terribly helpful. In my research to find out which is correct, I did come across an article that put it something like this: A Zookeeper is the person who has the job of taking care of the animals. A Zoo Keeper is someone who takes care of the zoo, as in keeps the zoo. That could include a zookeeper, but also managers, curators and so on.
Note that the American Association of Zoo Keepers uses the two word version. And National Zoo Keeper Week is officially the two word version.
Okay, back to what I originally wanted to share...
What is a Zookeeper?
Zookeepers are caretakers. Zookeepers are housekeeping. Zookeepers are chefs. Zookeepers are educators. Zookeepers are construction workers. Zookeepers are gardeners. Zookeepers are nurses. Zookeepers are advocates for conservation. Zookeepers are scientists. Zookeepers are behaviorists. Zookeepers are parents to animals in need of a mom or dad. Zookeepers are the voice for those who don't speak our language. Zookeepers are friends to other species. All because we are passionate about what we do - we do many things in our day for the animals we love. And maybe, just maybe, we inspire others along the way. Take a moment to thank a Zookeeper for all they do.
Looking back on what I wrote so many years ago, I see I left out many other things keepers do. But I didn't want to edit it too much from its original form. I also wanted to mention that I am in no way excluding aquarists, other animal care specialists. We are all on the same team with the same passion and dedication.
I have often said, being a zookeeper isn't just a job, its a way of life. Of course I can't speak for others in the profession. But in my
experience, being a zookeeper is a very different life experience than others I know.
Your schedule is earlier than most people. Your weekend isn't the weekend. Your vacations are not during the normal vacation season. You learn to live without a lot because your income is less than most careers that require your expertise and degrees. And any extra pennies you do have, you'd rather donate to your favorite conservation fund. You are more emotionally tied to your work than most people - The ups and downs are not understood by many outside of your zoo family.
The list is long. And what I have written above is far from a comprehensive list. But a least you get the idea.
What I am getting at is, there is more to being a zookeeper (animal care specialist) than the general public will ever see. And I hope you take the time this week to thank a zookeeper (et al.) at your local zoo, aquarium or animal facility, for all they do.
If you are interested, here's a link to the official proclamation for National Zoo Keeper Week, made in 2007.
The 110th Congress House Resolution 509. (Yes, its a government document, but worth the read.)
Bottle fed tiger - Free image from WIX web gallery
Aquarium - Photo by Zachary Spears on Unsplash Free Photos