Hello all, I hope you had a great week and enjoyed the first installment of “If Zoological Departments Were Television Shows, They Would Be…”. There is a common thread that is running through all of these departments, if it hasn’t jumped out at you yet then it may as you continue through Part II. In the conclusion, there will be the one show that every single department has in common. Here we go!
Here’s your scenario: You are redesigning the live rock in your coral display and you accidentally apply too much pressure leaning on some nearby plumbing that is part of your life support for this system. A hairline crack is created, which quickly progresses to a small geyser, and the salt water that took months to reach the perfect parameters is spraying everywhere. All your tedious and painstaking efforts that created optimal water quality are disappearing; your hard work is literally going down the drain. <=== **That’s how you use “literally”, Lifeguards** Back to the scenario, What do you do? Your average bear would answer, “Panic!” Your aquarist will answer, “Ok, so first you turn off your system (the force of the water will open the crack wider) and grab the nearest rag or tear off a piece of your shirt. Spit out your gum to cover the fissure, apply pressure until you can wrap the fabric tightly like a tourniquet. Knowing that your system will now overflow from your sump (because it is turned off) you have only a few moments to figure out how to catch the overflow of precious water that is dying to meet the drain. You grab a couple of airline tubes but they are too short separately and the two of them are different diameters. You cut a snorkel in half, grab your trusty lighter (or use the heat from the flames coming off your electrical because it is now soaking and caught fire) and melt the ends of the snorkel until it fits in the small tube. Now that you have a connector for your two tubes you create a gravitational suction from the sump to the main system, effectively returning the water to the system from the sump at a rate that is relatively even with the rate it is draining in. This buys you enough time to call (scream) for help to bring buckets and tools, or to release you long enough to run like a road runner to fetch them yourself. Fix system, drink heavily.
Aquarists. ‘Nuff said.
Now, I can only speak about my zoo nutrition program and ours was run by a wonderful PhD. Every time I needed a question answered or was cc’d on her emails I felt like I was talking to Abby from NCIS. She had her little area you went to visit when you needed her and no question had a simple answer. You wanted to learn how to safely add more fiber to your kangaroo diets? You would hear the entire breakdown of the digestive processes of marsupials and why that was/was not a good idea. Do you think we should add some more browse to the giraffe diets? Get ready to hear how the stomach acids react to the acacia seeds to stimulate germination once excreted by the animal. They have an extensive mental library of knowledge regarding anatomy and physiology. I loved every second that I could soak that in and feel more intelligent leaving that building than when I entered, if not a bit dizzy.
Operations is, by far, the most motley crew of personalities out there. They can be the most wonderful thing to happen to you when you are in a pinch or they can be a soul-sucking succubus from which there is no escape. In a department that large there are quite a few individuals that have the rationale of a Stan or Kyle. However, the Cartmans and Kennys are there as well to remind you that with each good there must be a few that are… not so good. I lucked out yesterday, I had rockstar Ops folks that helped me out immensely with a massive guest service issue that could have been a catastrophe. Why would it have been a catastrophe? Because contrary to popular guest belief, none of us enjoy being screamed at or told we ruined your vacation because it took 20 minutes to get a replacement stroller because a wheel fell off of yours. Believe me, we go out of our way to be proactive to keep you happy and to keep you moving along. Ops is a gigantic part of that process, until one of them realizes they have been in the bathroom for an hour and a half sleeping and now their lunch bump is in a tailspin.
Do you have the desire to drive around in a 102 degree heat index, multiple times a day, to shovel gargantuan amounts of feces for recycling? Do you know what a “dung midden” is and the importance of removing them daily if you have more than one male on the property? Do you have a talent for 8-10 hours of throwing hay bales, raking, and hauling? Then, my friend, you have a future in the care of ungulates! The catch to caring for animals that have a high tolerance, if not a need, for hot and humid environments is that you must spend the majority of your day in the aforementioned environment. I’ve spoken on uniforms before; we are dressed for guests and not the environment. These are “old school” keepers; no fluff, no frills, but plenty of back breaking work. Hoofstock keepers are the closest things to cowboys we have. My father is a 4th generation farmer who then started his own remodeling business; at 71 years old he is still hanging drywall. If he had ever joined a zoo department, this is where his calling would have been. Virtuous, salt of the Earth types; that’s what these departments are made of. Now that you know this, quit giving them the side-eye when you see them smoking a cigarette out back. They’ve earned that damn cig!
AA Team: A multitude of animal species being cared for by a multitude of personalities. They can all be on the same page or going in a million different directions, it will still work. This tight knit team is also bitingly witty but in a “camera ready” type of way. Why? They are media trained. When you see Jack Hanna on “Late Night” with a hornbill or a sloth on “Conan”? That is the AA team. They also get to make the best EED’s (Environmental Enrichment Devices) because their animals are so diverse. Who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours making animal toys? There are so many dynamics to this team (like the Pritchett and Dunphy families) and such a wide range of experience that it is mind-boggling. Guests often ask departments about something that is completely out of their realm and are baffled when the keeper/trainer/employee doesn’t know the answer. For example, asking a dolphin trainer how long a hyrax lives. Odds are, they don’t know and why the hell would they?! Animal Ambassadors will know that and much more.
The common misconception of Herp or even insect keepers (entomologists) is that they are eccentric and, well… weird. They aren’t at all! Herp keepers are just as friendly and companionable as the rest of us, they just work with animals that even some other zoo folks can’t handle. This is why this department reminds me of Cosmos. A show so awesome they did it twice, and because television programming desperately needed more of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. However, despite the awesomeness of Cosmos, many shied away from it and found it somewhat repulsive. The subjects of evolution and climate change tend to incite a bit of hysteria and the vast majority of the other viewers watched this frenzy with a puzzled curiosity. That’s how herp keepers feel about those that are terrified of snakes and reptiles. I mean, honestly, have you seen a uromastyx and how boss they are? Seriously, what is wrong with you?
So, let’s just start with who Security is. Usually this department has a fairly decent population of former police officers, first responders, and military service men and women (some still active). We don’t have too many emergencies at the park other than first aid issues and we have First Aid for that. We get the occasional drunk, shoplifter, a pitiful fistfight (remember Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones?), or a misguided activist who forwent their 1st Amendment right to free assembly on the curb and aspires to be arrested for disturbing the peace on grounds. So, security usually spends their time on park walks or hanging in the security booths together and solving the world’s problems. Their conversations are hilarious and priceless. They have seen the best and worst in society through their life experiences and they take on all the social and political issues in that booth, secluded from the rest of the departments. Any antic you can think of they have seen it, busted it, and make fun of it. From the idiots trying to jump barriers into animal enclosures to the morons trying to have sex in the bushes (yes, those things happen at zoos and aquariums), they have seen it all. In response to all these colorful guest shenanigans I will quote my favorite security guard, Fred… “Get your shit together, people.”
This seems like an odd choice, right? Bear with me. Game of Thrones (GoT) is one of my favorite shows. It is witty, smart, quick, and you really never know what is coming up next. You can barely absorb what has just happened before your critical thinking skills are needed again. There are also many different factions within R&R teams. There are the people who fund your work (Lannisters), the faithful ones that take on the majority of the dirty work (Starks), the ones with the most experience who get to do the coolest things along with the dirty work (Targaryens), and the ones who are missing fingers from various netting mishaps (Greyjoys). The most common parallel is that after all the dedication, heart, blood, sweat and tears you never know who will die. Their title says it all, the animals they care for came to them compromised; they are injured or sick and dying. The emotional toll can be overwhelming, just like watching GoT. However, unlike the protagonists in GoT, R&R teams are not closing in on world domination (but maybe there is a hidden Iron Throne in triage?). They are just trying to make the world a better place. If a team earns good karma by paying it forward then animal rescue and rehab teams are destined to be the “Mother of Dragons”.
I must say that I poorly underestimated the potential and future support of my fellow keepers, trainers, and employees in the field. What was once intended to be a single blog entry has now grown into a trio. I have a few more teams that will be addressed and those will be covered in the 3rd installment of “If Zoological Teams Were Television Shows…” Why? Because nobody puts Education in the corner! Check it out next week when the FINAL part of this blog series is posted and ties us all together with one… epic… television show.
Hugs and Fishes, ya’ll!