A zoological facility is a microcosm full of departments; our own little universe comprised of individual teams and held together by gravitational pull (and sweat). We have oodles of separate but equally important divisions all working together as a unit. We are there to educate you, entertain you, assist you, feed you, clean up for and after you, keep you safe, and make your world more beautiful for a few hours. It takes a lot of work, everyone plays their part, and we don’t often get to appreciate each other the way we should. We become our own separate social groups because you spend just as much time with your zoo family as you do with your primary family units. Each team has their own unique skill sets that are vital to their department. Over time, we end up creating our own cultures and subcultures. Social nuances and innocuous stereotypes begin to come into play. So, just like any culture or subculture they can have entertainment equivalents and pop culture parallels.
Therefore, I pose this question: If departments of a zoological facility were television shows, which one(s) would they be? Here are my thoughts…
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Dolphin training departments are comprised of diverse personalities and few subjects are off limits or too explicit; taboos are rare to nonexistent. Trainers also have a strong propensity for randomly breaking into song and dance routines for no logical reason. They can be hyperactive and eat a lot of sugar at work, although no one has to throw a slushie in their face for them to acquire a sugar fix. It’s always someone’s birthday, going away party, anniversary, or day that ends with “Y”… all of which demand a cookie cake. They tend to talk fast, walk faster, and have a tendency to get mired down in their personal and work dramas. That’s ok! You only have a few minutes of wallowing before someone suckers you into singing, “Peanut Butter Jelly Time! Peanut Butter Jelly Time! Peanutbutterjelly! Peanutbutterjelly!”, and then you are laughing like a lunatic. Don’t Stop Believin’, kids.
All talk, all pithy humor, all the time. They have the most oddball sense of humor but it just works, alone and together as a team. The animals they care for are truly their cohorts in a way that a lot of other zoo teams aren’t. Sea lions just have that droll approach about them and so do their trainers. Sometimes, when you are trying to engage them (trainers and pinnipeds) you can just imagine them thinking, “Yada yada yada.” Pinniped trainers can make anything funny with their dry humor and truly make a show about nothing into everything. If improv and physical comedy were vital skills for survival, this team would rule the world.
Just an absolutely fab team dynamic that has to do very little to show how awesome they are. Quality time is typically quiet time, low key humor is the order of the day, and there is comfort in a routine (when you are able to keep one). Orang keepers provide plenty of witty dialogue with a laconic edge. Spending that much time together in a support area is bound to foster some interesting conversations. The primates usually have the majority of the room dedicated to their habitats so the keepers are in a smaller, condensed back support area…like the bar in Cheers. Young kids, ask Uncle Google if you are lost right now with the comparison. Orangutan keepers balance a rapier wit while remaining slightly taciturn, even when the “higher-ups” throw the proverbial monkey wrench into their well thought out daily plans.
Oh, Horticulture. They are the department that is rarely seen or truly appreciated, just like Firefly. For those, and there are many of you, that never embraced the wonder that was Firefly then think of “My So-Called Life” or “Freaks and Geeks”. All were wonderful shows that were critically acclaimed and awesome but were never valued by the masses. That would be the cross that horticulture has to bear. They spend agonizing months creating beautiful topiaries and gardens. They weed, they mow, they trim, and they plant. And for what? For some kid to walk by a couple hours after they’re done and pull all of the Gerber daisies out by the handful, only to shred them and throw them on the sidewalk. Horticulture is truly one of our unsung heroes; they make our parks and zoos better and beautiful. Sadly, rarely do we stop and savor the fruits of their labor. However, damned if we wouldn’t miss them terribly if they were gone!
By the way, Nathan Fillion! I’m still waiting patiently for your reply to my marriage proposal.
Give it up for drama and teenage angst! Honestly, what do you expect when you throw few dozen kids together between the ages of 18-25 years old? Not to mention they are all clad in bathing suits, perpetually reminding you how young and tan they are. The pheromones are so thick in the air that it affects my allergies. Every night is a kegger to be relived the next day and, I must admit, it is pretty amusing to eavesdrop in on their conversations. They say “like”, “clearly”, “totally”, and “literally” quite a bit and they are usually using them in the wrong context. Whatever. For example, as I meander by their stand I may hear this little gem (or something very similar)…
“OMG, did you know that Kelly totally slept with Dylan while Brenda was out of town “visiting her family”? And, by “visiting her family” I mean “rehab”. I’m totally, like literally, going to kick her ass when she gets home because she owes me rent. Clearly, I’m getting blackout tonight.”
Sigh. Bless them. Bless their little, barely legal hearts and the imaginary runway show they walk every day.
Let’s just cut to the chase. There are days when I really believe Culinary wants to shank all of us and I don’t blame them for a moment. All of us are a complete pain in the ass when we come to the commissary or employee lounges. We all drag in hot, tired, and hangry (yes, hangry) because we are already losing time on our lunches just to walk to the lounge. Murphy’s Law in zoos/aquariums is that you will always have to walk across at least half of the entire property to reach the lunch area. This means cutting off enough lunch time to return to your area when expected. Why do we do it and not just eat wherever it is most convenient? Two words: Air Conditioning. We will walk across a mile of broken glass for a solid half hour of cold air conditioning. Poor culinary has to put up with our persnickety requests, hurried demeanor, and fighting over who was next in line. If one person asks for a toasted bun or bacon you can see them clench because they know the next 50 people will ask for the same time consuming extra. Why? Because they heard you ask. Toasting a bun or some bacon seems easy, right? Not when you have a line out the door of people on a limited lunch time who are on the brink of wiling out. However, all is forgiven the next day as long as you obey one cardinal rule: Don’t complain about the food or the service. For real, your portions shrink and somehow they just keep waiting on everyone but you. Chef Lydia taught me that lesson very early in my career. You have all been properly warned.
Do you think you are a talkative person? Can you chat up the room at 4 a.m., clear-eyed and bushy tailed, while preparing fruit and nectar diets? Then aviculture may be for you! Aviculturists are famously friendly and talkative among zoo professionals; not as boisterously gregarious as dolphin trainers but genuinely fun and full of creativity. They are extremely detail-oriented and patient with each other and their birds. Aviculture is a tight knit group, just like Friends, and they have a quirky sense of humor. They have the brand of idiosyncratic make-up that could produce, “Smelly Cat” or “How you doin’?” They are absolutely capable of coming up with this hand gesture…
So, this is just the beginning. There are many, many more departments I will touch on so this will be another two part blog post. I wanted to include some of the departments other than just the zoological ones that help make our facilities great; I hope I’ve done them justice. Next week, I will touch on Aquarium, Security, Operations (Ops), Ungulates (Hoofstock), Rescue and Rehabilitation teams, Dog trainers (K9 units), and more. In the end, I will reveal the iconic (if not notorious) television show that we all have in common.
Thank you all so very much for reading, my recent number of views have left me stunned (in a good way). I hope you have been enjoying this creative outlet for offering mad props to my field, with a healthy dose of snark. Stay tuned next week for Part II of “If Zoological Teams Were Television Shows, They Would Be…”
Until then, you know the drill. Hugs and Fishes, ya’ll!