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Zoo Keepers Share The Wildest Secrets About Their Profession

Reddit user ethicalrevenge asked: 'Zoo keepers of Reddit: what are zoo secrets that people wouldn’t believe?'

two giraffe and three zebra on green grass field in zoo
Nikolay Tchaouchev on Unsplash

As some people have invariably noted by now, this article's title uses the term zoo keeper instead of zookeeper.

Before suggesting a correction—well, actually...—is there a difference between zookeeper and zoo keeper?

According to the American Association of Zoo Keepers, there is.

"When you are talking about the actual occupation, it is zookeeper—like bookkeeper. But when you are referring to all the other people or occupations involved in keeping a zoo running—like curators, maintenance, office staff, volunteers, etc...—it is two words."

A zookeepers' job is to directly care for the animals in a zoo.

They plan the animals' diets, feed them, monitor their eating patterns and behavior and watch for signs of illness or injury. They also clean enclosures because in a properly run facility, not everyone off the street is allowed to step into a tiger cage—looking at you, Joe Exotic.

But that alone won't keep a zoo running.

That's where the other zoo keepers—because zookeepers are also zoo keepers—come in to handle accounting and finance, manage guests and volunteers, provide security, perform veterinary medical procedures, design and build new enclosures, coordinate community outreach and everything else needed to keep the lights on, the doors open and the animals cared for.

So this article actually is about zoo keepers, not just zookeepers.

Reddit user ethicalrevenge asked:

"Zoo keepers of Reddit: what are zoo secrets that people wouldn’t believe?"

Zoo (grounds)Keeper

"In the case of most large Zoos—including specifically the San Diego Zoo and Wild Safari Park which is like a sister zoo—the money spent on maintaining & curating the plant life is many multiples more than the money spent on maintaining & curating animals."

"The staff to maintain the plant life is many multiple's larger than the staff for animals, too."

~ Cody6781

grooming British GIF by Acorn TVGiphy

"Well, the San Diego Zoo has one of the most diverse collections of plants on the planet."

"They have to maintain a lot of exotic plants to feed our animals there, and a lot of others are there for the same reason as some animals—to preserve the species.

"Personally, I love the Fern Canyon area, next to the Scripps Aviary.

~ KnottaBiggins

What's In A Name?

"My girlfriend used to work for the Nashville Zoo. She said that there at least, the animals have different stage names that the public know them by than the keepers use for them."

~ PerInception

"At a zoo I volunteered at, the flamingos are called 'The Booze Crew'."

"One is named tequila, another bourbon and a bUnch of other alcohol or cocktail names."

~ NovaThinksBadly

flamingo GIFGiphy

"Sometimes zoos auction off the right to name an animal to raise money."

"Which makes sense from a fundraising perspective, but sometimes rich people choose awful names and/or the animal already had an unofficial name behind the scenes which the keepers keep using."

~ SnakesAndAshes

Surplus Culling

"Sometimes if there is an excess of a certain breed of animal, let’s say giraffes, that none of the other nearby zoos can take, it will be given to carnivorous animals in the zoo, such a lions, tigers etc... At least in Europe."

~ GhostLuu

"Providing additional context here: Accredited zoo's in the United States use birth control to keep population levels controlled as euthanizing an otherwise healthy 'surplus' animal is considered inhumane."

"I only personally know of one European zoo that considers denying an animal the natural experience of pregnancy and birth to be inhumane, so they will allow the mother to do so then cull the offspring."

"There was a 60 Minutes segment on it a while ago, and it was a very interesting argument, but not one I agree with."

"I want to say they waited until the animal was no longer nursing but don't quote me on that. And if that is the case, it doesn't make it any better."

~ Civilized_Primate

baby giraffe GIFGiphy

"I don't really get the logic of it being inhumane to deny animals the experience of pregnancy and birth but it being totally fine to tear the baby away from its mother just to feed it to another animal."

"Like what makes more sense, breeding giraffes or something just to feed to lions or just separating the males from the females if you can't give them birth control?"

~ OneGoodRib

No Vegans Or Carnivores

"Many 'vegetarian' animals are also fed a small amount of meat. Because in the wild the plants, vegetables, and fruits they eat often have bugs in them that they also eat."

"It's not really a secret and if you ask a keeper about an animal's diet they'll tell you, but many people have this notion of herbivores only eat plants and carnivores only eat meat."

"The reality is there are very few pure herbivores or carnivores in the wild. One of the first things many predators eat from a large prey animal is the stomach and large intestines to get partly digested plant matter."

~ DeathMonkey6969

Boredom Is The Enemy To Contentment

"My favorite topic is the enrichment exercises. They put a lot of research & detail into keeping the animals engaged & entertained."

"The best one was the see-through tongue maze they built for an anteater to explore."

~ Snoobs-Magoo

lions GIFGiphy

"We play poker with the orangutans on Thursdays."

~ Tongue-Punch

You Cannot Take Our FREEDOM!

"The Vancouver Aquarium, for a while, had a problem with crabs being eaten in a tank where they were in there alone, without a predator."

"Turns out, at night, the Pacific Giant Octopus from two tanks down would slither out of its tank, go across the intervening tank, and snack on a crab or two, then return to its own tank."

~ millijuna

giant pacific octopus GIF by Monterey Bay AquariumGiphy

"The octopus at the national zoo in Washington DC used to take itself for walks too. They’re something else."

~ RoseGoldStreak

"I used to volunteer at an aquarium with Giant Pacific octopi (octopodes?). Some of them were quite adventurous and would try to exit their exhibit."

"Fun fact: they HATE the feel of AstroTurf, so the curator would put it on the lid to keep them inside."

~ swamp_thing_504

Dumbo They Are Not

"Elephants are terrifying. Even if they’re being playful or friendly, you always need at least one or two other people around to keep an eye on things."

~ NovaThinksBadly

"I volunteered at a zoo in college. All the keepers said the elephants were the most terrifying/dangerous animals.

"They really do never forget if someone harmed them or a member of their herd. They'll get revenge even years later."

~ swamp_thing_504

elephants GIF by San Diego ZooGiphy

"Was on an inside the operation, behind the walls corporate trip to a big western USA zoo. Two employees took us around the unseen side of the elephant enclosure."

"Picture a gate made of metal bars about 4 inches wide and big as an elephant tall. Employees repeatedly said, 'Stay 10 feet from bars'."

"An elephant had recently grabbed someone with its trunk. They were bludgeoned as the elephant repeatedly slammed them into the gate."

~ ilikemagnets33

* Elephants are statistically the most dangerous animals kept in captivity. Elephants are responsible for more zookeeper deaths than any other animal. However zebra kicks and bites account for the most injuries overall.

Neighbors Are Not Supposed To Be Snacks

"I volunteer at an aquarium and people always ask whether the sharks ever eat the other fish in their tank. Officially we say, 'we keep them well fed enough that they don’t'."

"But on more than one morning on my initial walk around, I have found remains of fish that definitely weren’t feed fish."

"On a particularly memorable occasion I found the head of a large porgy just sitting on the bottom. A diver went in and got it before guests arrived."

~ SunflowerPrincesy

New England Aquarium Shark GIFGiphy

"I remember at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium—I was a member of a volunteer program there—I went to the top of that massive tank they have, where they have all sorts of fish, some sharks, and a friendly disabled turtle."

"I asked one of the keepers if fish ever went missing and apparently they do all the time, because, well, sharks."

"They feed the sharks well, but I think we can all relate towards wanting a tasty snack between meals."

~ NovaThinksBadly

Humans Are Hairless Apes

"I wound up on a YouTube video where they talked about having to do a semi-emergency cesarean section on a gorilla. The vets and keepers figured out the mother was suffering from preeclampsia, so they decided on the c-section.

"To do this, they called the top (human) Ob-Gyn in town, and she wound up assembling the team and performing the surgery."

"Other than the really hairy belly and the even more squishy faced baby, it wasn’t any different than operating on a human."

~ millijuna

San Diego Zoo baby GIFGiphy

"It happens all the time. Dentists, cardiologists, ENTs...there was even a urologist that had multiple successes reversing vasectomies in non-human primates (great apes).

"I used to work with a couple gorillas with early signs of heart disease and they were on carvedilol, lisinopril, and iron supplements for their hearts—the same as humans."

"They had implantable loop recorders in their chests, which we read via Bluetooth every week, and from that data we were able to pinpoint the correct dosages for each individual."

"There's a ton of research going on with heart disease in great apes in human care. One challenge is not knowing if the frequency of heart disease in captive apes is similar to apes not in human care."

"Many gorillas in human care are trained to present their chests for awake cardiac ultrasounds, but you can't walk up to a gorilla in Uganda and get the same information."

~ Civilized_Primate

🎵 You Load 16 10 Tons...🎶

"The thing I think people wouldn’t believe is how much manual labor we do."

"The giraffes need new sand in their stalls? Looks like 4 women with college degrees are gonna haul in 10 tons of sand in 50lb bag increments over the course of 2 days."

"Not speaking from experience at all, of course."

~ porcupineslikeme

giraffe GIF by Oakland ZooGiphy

Do Republicans Know‽‽

"Many of the animals may be on some form of birth control."

"In the case of great apes, it's probably the same one most humans take."

~ Civilized_Primate

Gotta Learn Somehow

"In some cases, zoos donate carcasses of animals that die to a university or veterinary school. The zoo I'm at regularly donates to a university with a veterinary program."

"It's a great learning opportunity for the students."

~ Civilized_Primate

animal healthcare tiger GIF by Oakland ZooGiphy

"As a vet student, I had to fight every other student on my pathology rotation to be the one who got to necropsy a loggerhead turtle from a local large aquarium."

"It was definitely the coolest thing to come in that week."

~ Moctor_Drignall

"I remember walking into my undergraduate zoology lab one day and noticing a bunch of blood on the floor. Surprise!"

"A lion had died at the zoo and had been given to my professor. Naturally he had brought it to class on a wheely cart."

~ Sedixodap

🎵 I'm A Mobile...🎶

"I have a few zookeepers in my friends group. When I ask questions their eyes kinda glaze over and they parrot the things I know they tell guests: 'A lion is a carnivore! So they eat meat! In the wild...'."

"ut every once in a while they slip up or admit something in an unrelated conversation, and I have learned things."

"Such as the baboons somehow insisted on listening to the song 'Mobile' by Avril Lavigne on repeat at one point, thus f*cking up one of my friends Spotify recommendations."

~ Professional-Bee-137

baboons GIF by San Diego Zoo Wildlife AllianceGiphy

The Circle Of Life

"If an animal dies of natural causes we sometimes feed them out to other animals."

"Had a zebra pass and we fed it out to our lions."

"A local farmer had a calf that was killed when it was kicked in the head by its mom and we fed the whole carcus out to our African wild dogs."

"Both times were during public visiting hours so I guess it's not necessarily a secret just not well known."

~ TheWalkingMeg

Sophisticated Palates

"At our large public aquarium/watery zoo, the animals are fed the same restaurant quality seafood you eat. Sea otters are extremely expensive to keep for this reason."

"So are sharks, dolphins, beluga whales and anything tropical and saltwater."

"And the keepers are working for love because God knows it sure isn't money."

~ Barbarella_ella

otters GIFGiphy

"I remember an aquarium in Japan started feeding their otters & such cheaper quality fish....and they REFUSED to eat it. They had to go back to the expensive stuff."

~ Eponarose

"Otters can be really picky. I worked with Giant River Otters who favored trout."

"Salmon? Might as well be toxic waste."

~ porcupineslikeme

Working at a zoo may seem like a dream job, but it's also a lot of hard work.

What question would you ask a zoo keeper?