A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper
Ever wonder what it’s like to feed monkeys and elephants or train bears and birds? For zookeepers, that’s just another day on the job. We may work with zoo professionals on a daily basis, but we wanted to know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. So, we called one up!
Meet Anna Anderson, Section Zookeeper at Pueblo Zoo in Pueblo, Colorado.
“Growing up, I loved animals and wildlife, but I didn’t consider zookeeping until I started researching career options before college. I had never really heard anyone talk about zookeeping as a career path,” explained Anna.
She went on to get her bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife with a minor in Animal Science. From there, she focused on gaining hands-on experience through internships at various zoos across the country.
“In my first internship, I had an ah-ha moment. The job always sounded cool, but in that moment, when I was actually doing the work, it clicked and I knew zookeeping was for me,” shared Anna.
Now she leads the daily care of 50 animals in her section at Pueblo Zoo. While every day is different, this is what a typical day may look like for Anna.
Like many careers, zookeeping requires teamwork. The first thing on Anna’s docket for each day is a meeting with her teammates to make sure everyone is caught up and on the same page about the day’s tasks and priorities.
Morning Life Checks
Next, the team heads out to check on every animal to make sure they’re doing well, looking healthy and have everything they need. They may also administer any medications the animals need.
Now for the fun part: cleaning! According to Anna, about 60% of her job is cleaning, which is something most people don’t expect from a zookeeper but it’s a reality of the job. Everything from animal exhibits and feed dishes to surface areas and landscaping need to be neat, clean and tidy. This is important for animal health, guest satisfaction and is required to keep facilities up to USDA standards.
As part of her role, Anna oversees the diet kitchen and commissary where all the animals’ meals are made. Getting nutrition right for such a wide variety of animals is no small feat and takes a team. Veterinarians, animal nutritionists, sometimes even contacts at other zoos are all involved in the collaboration it takes to build an animal’s diet.
“We try to simulate what their wild diet and eating schedule would be like,” shared Anna. “If they’re diurnal animals, they probably enjoy having their diet split up into a morning feeding and an evening feeding. If they’re a forage feeder like our ruminants and hoofstock, they need to have small bits of food to graze on throughout the day.”
A key way to ensure their animals get the complete, balanced nutrition they need is providing a quality base like a Mazuri® diet. According to Anna, about 60% of their dry goods are Mazuri products.
“We really trust Mazuri products because of their quality. They’re completely dedicated to the niche market of exotic animals and have made that clear in their consistency. It’s important to be consistent and have quality ingredients because these animals rely so heavily on their product. I’ve never had to worry about the quality of ingredients we’re getting from Mazuri,” shared Anna.
Once all the animals are fed, it’s time for some fun! Most animals at Pueblo Zoo get enriched at least once a day, according to their needs. That means giving them something novel to interact with to keep their brain stimulated and keep them interested. That’s a big focus for zookeepers because it’s so important for animal welfare. They have to make sure the animals’ days don’t get too monotonous and provide opportunities for animals to express their natural behaviors.
“Getting to see the animal’s personalities is one of my favorite parts of zookeeping. Everyone loves to see the animals, but as their caretaker, you really get to see their unique traits shine,” said Anna. “One of the top goals at our zoo is helping animals express their natural behavior. We’re always striving to provide experiences that elicit natural responses through things like enrichment and presenting their food in ways that mimic the wild.”
Once the animals have full bellies and busy minds, Anna carves out some time to train the animals. We’re not talking fancy tricks, but rather, voluntary behaviors that help improve the quality of care. For example, she can train them to step up onto the scale for their monthly weight checks or take an injection voluntarily for stress-free vaccinations. If they didn’t take the time to practice these events and train these behaviors, simple care tasks like a nail trim could turn into a timely ordeal requiring sedation.
“Our Sun Bear Barney is my favorite animal in the zoo. He is an adorable 31-year-old who is as sweet as can be and very intelligent,” shared Anna. “We trained him to do voluntary nail trims. He puts his paws up on the mesh fence between us so his nails poke through, then one of us feeds him limitless whipped cream while the other trim his nails.”
When she’s not feeding, training, or cleaning up after animals, Anna can be found out connecting with the zoo’s visitors.
“I love connecting with the guests. I get to do Keeper Talks where I share about specific species like African Painted Dogs and people get to learn about these highly endangered animals they never knew about. I also get to advocate for conservation and help explain how zoos are more than places to see cool animals, they’re organizations that are also actively working to preserve and protect the diverse animal species of the world.”
Advice for Future Keepers
Sounds like a fun day? Maybe you’re destined to be a zookeeper!
“For anyone interested in zookeeping, I recommend getting all the experience you can. Volunteer at your local zoo, wildlife rehab center or animal shelter,” advised Anna. “It’s also important to be willing to do things you’ve never done before. There’s a new challenge every day in zookeeping and that’s what makes it fun.”
Whether you’re zookeeper like Anna or an exotic animal fanatic with your own critters at home, when you feed Mazuri, you feed like a zoo professional. Find the perfect Mazuri diet for your animals, so when it comes to mealtime, you do ’Zu.