Exhausted Zookeepers Reveal The Most Difficult Animals They Work With
As kids, many of us thought working in a zoo would be a dream job. And while people in the profession have a certain passion for it, it's still a job.
Reddit user AtariLynx asked "Zoo Workers of Reddit, which animal is the biggest jerk in your facility?"
Here's some insight into the life of a zookeeper.
I used to work in an aquarium. By far the meanest fish there was the Queen Triggerfish. The divers who cleaned the shark tank had to start wearing hoods after she almost ripped one guy's ear off. After that incident we named her Tyson.
I'm the gardener at my local zoo and I learned pretty early on not to turn my back to the chimps while I'm working in the garden by their exhibit. The zookeepers give the chimps toys and various objects to play with and the youngest chimp has thrown most of it at me. She's thrown blankets, a pair of jeans, a rain boot, megabloks, dirt clods, a comb, sticks, rocks, bottles, poop, and once even a dead squirrel. She actually killed a squirrel that wandered into her enclosure and threw it at me. I've only ever been hit with a comb, thank goodness. I've dodged everything else she's thrown at me and once I even caught a megablok that she threw. She gets pissed when you catch what she throws. I'm not allowed to throw anything back because it would just encourage the behavior and I'd probably lose my job. I used to dread having to plant in that garden but I'm actually looking forward to going back in the spring and seeing that little jerk again.
Worked at an aquarium which had a small terrestrials section where we did handling experiences. Giant millipedes are complete jerks! Working around salt water tanks meant your hands ended up very salty. If you hadn't washed every spec of salt off you these millipedes would chow down on you in seconds, sometimes drawing blood. I've still got a small mark on my hand from one big bite and of course we have to stay calm so not to scare the children from interacting with these animals.
there was a rhino names Zeus. He was normally super chill and loved getting fed apples and slices of bread and scritches on the nose. Zeus LOVED water and he realized that he could use his horn as a shovel and dig a big pit at the edge of his enclosure and the nearby pond would flood it and he would have a little bath to play in. For whatever reason the zoo didn't like that so they had a digger come in and fill in Zeus' hole.
Anyhow, one day I finished cleaning his enclosure and he had this little kiddy pool in there so I was going to fill it up with water. I was standing on the outside of the enclosure (because rhino) and had a hose to fill his pool. He was watching me and as I started to fill the pool he came over to watch. As the pool started to fill, Zeus hooked his horn under the edge and flung the pool into the fence. It scared me senseless and water went everywhere. So I yelled at Zeus and he got all upset (believe it or not, rhinos are like dogs) and I reached in, flipped the pool over and started to fill it again.
Once again, as the pool started to fill, Zeus comes over and using his horn slams that into the fence. Now I'm really pissed and I reach my arm into the enclosure almost up to the shoulder to flip the pool but Zeus lunges for my arm and rakes his horn up the fence. I barely got out of there in time and landed on my a** in the dirt. Now I'm not mad, I'm worried. Because Zeus is never aggressive. So I go ask the keepers if they have ever seen this behavior before.
They start laughing and say "Oh yea, we forgot to tell you, he wants to play in the water from the hose. Let him do that for a bit and he'll let you fill the pool." Gee, thanks for that tid bit of late info.
So I go back and Zeus is standing there staring at me. I pick up the hose and aim it up in air and pull the trigger so it kind of rains on Zeus. I shit you not, this enormous Rhino starts to spin around and fling his head and dance. Like an excited dog. I'm standing there with my mouth hanging open because I have never seen anything like it. Once there was enough water to make some mud Zeus started rolling around and forgot all about the pool, which I was able to flip and fill.
Otters were kept with the wild pigs for some reason. They harassed the living sh*# out of those pigs. Pig would be minding its own business, trying to eat from a pile of food. Otters would circle around him, taking turns running up and pulling his tail and running away. Pig would turn around and try to charge one, but the otters were too quick and would just scatter. I waited a while to see if they would quit, or what would happen if the pig would get one, but they never stopped, and the pig never got one.
The geese are pure evil.
We have a gang of Canada geese that roam our village of roughy 2,000 people and terrorise the living hell out of anything not goose shaped. They're legitimately a menace. They chase people and wreck cars and honk at anything that comes near them. It was like some sort of gang. People used to hit them with cars every now and then because they'd charge into the road. It was a sad day when another goose terrorist went down. Live fearless, brave souls.
I had a friend who worked at a wildlife rescue and he always had trouble with the lemurs. The male would get aggressive whenever he came in and he'd have to stamp his feet on the ground to run him off. One day he was bending over to pick something up and the male pounced on his head and turned into a flurry of teeth and claws. He got back to the office and his head was pouring blood. He grabbed a couple towels for the blood and went to the ER to get a tetanus shot. From that point on two people had to go into the lemur enclosure at a time.
The hippos at our zoo will defecate on their tails and helicopter it all over people.
Volunteered at wildlife rehab where the specialty was birds. The biggest a-holes where definitely Amazon parrots. I mean all Psittacines are jerks but Amazons have evil in them.
There was this one male who was huge and liked getting in fights and generally antagonizing the keepers. So once they were kept in separate cages because we were collecting feces samples and I go to change their food/water. Everything goes well until I get to his cage. He seems to notice that I wanted to take his stuff so he decides to sit his fat green self on the front of the door staring at me, you know the casual "touch this and you lose your fingers" look parrots have. So I manage to distract him and quickly scoop out his bowls. Change his food and water and get them inside the cages without any problems.
Except there was no support for his water bowl so it's on the cage floor, which is a grave mistake. He puts his foot on the edge of the bowl while staring at me with that empty look devoid of good only birds have and tips it over. And then laughs loudly because parrots think it's fun to mess with humans.
I have been working in reptile farms over the years.
My jobs have various snake species that are large and bitey, but nothing venomous. While snake hooks are always around they are rarely used because after a while you just get used to being bitten and learn how to work with the animal and read its body language.
The exception to this was a single female Florida King Snake. She was permanently angry. It didn't matter if she had been fed, if she was breeding, if you were giving her water, or if you just walked past her cage, she was in a constant state of aggression. We did leave a snake hook by her cage because as soon as it was opened she would immediately start striking and hissing. After two or three strikes she would start getting even more angry and would start getting excessively posed, to the point where she would lean so far back she was practically upside down before striking. As soon as you closed the cage and walked away you could heard the thuds of her still striking and hitting the front.
I was an intern at a zoo about ten years ago... Elephants are basically six ton toddlers. Three year-olds that can murder you during a tantrum... the one there would get upset if you didn't say good morning to her. She threw a rock at a night watchman for not saying hi, broke his ribs... She once shattered the windshield to the hay truck with a rock because it drove too fast past her enclosure. She threw a log at a keeper because they were cleaning up branches after a storm and didn't notice her trying to help and hand them one.... so she threw it at them. She got mad one day after her friend passed away from old age and tried to throw a keeper through the fence.... Basically, elephants are just hyper-emotional three year-olds with a mean streak...
Ravens are too smart for their own good. They were always supplementing their food with popcorn or other snacks from zoo visitors. They would barter with the wild ravens for different foods, so you could never keep them on the diet they were supposed to be on. They also liked to play a game where they would corner the keeper. They'd hop around their perches while you cleaned, but if you weren't careful you'd end up cornered and have to walk underneath one of them. When you did, they'd try to poop on you...
The damn turkeys. I hated those f'ing turkeys.... Hated them. Turkeys are a-holes. Don't you ever feel bad for eating one because I guarantee he probably deserved it. And the president pardoning a turkey on Thanksgiving? No. F' that. Kill it and eat that son of a b$#@ because he's probably plotting your death right now....
Monkeys definitely. A while ago we had a little Capuchin monkey who learned how to leave his enclosure and went at night to sip some whiskey from a nearby apartment. It happened for quite some time since he always returned back before we noticed. He was caught when he become to greedy and entered the kitchen to grab some snacks.
When I worked at Chester Zoo I was always so uncomfortable being near the lion enclosure on my own (especially early in the morning). Once I had to get there at 6am and I was the only one around, walked past the lions and couldn't see them, so I stepped a bit closer to try and get a better look, suddenly the large male leapt up from just inside the fence where he had been obstructed by some tall plants and he roared deafeningly loudly in my face. I nearly poo'd myself.
We had a Cretin Goat that was hand reared, so it was put in the children's petting zoo. As it got older it turned into more and more of a jerk. This goat started bullying the kids by gently approaching them until they it was close enough to be pet. It would put its head against the kids then try to push them over. But worse than that, is it really hated old ladies. It just straight up charged and rammed old ladies. After a few knock downs, it became apparent what a jerk it was.
We moved the goat to an off exhibit 3/4 acre enclosure on a hillside. I was doing some work in the enclosure with a coworker of mine before we found out about this particular goat. She stayed at the bottom of the hill to check out the animals while I was doing work up top. I looked down and she was hiding in the barn waving at me. I thought it was weird but just kept on working. Then, this goat comes up and starts pushing into me. I thought it was just being aggressive with wanting to be pet.
Little shit was sure footed on that hillside, planting it and trying to push me over. I slipped a few times but it was more an annoyance at that point. What changed was when this goat started dropping his head in front of my thighs and jerking it up backwards, seemingly trying to impale me with its horns. I repeatedly had to grab its horn with one hand, while carrying my equipment in the other. Then it would scamper off and come back with another head push and attempted stabbing every 10 feet I made down the hillside.
When I met with my coworker at the bottom, she told me it got aggressive and charged her. She was waving to try and warn me. After that we mentioned the goat to the keeper. He laughed and proceeded to tell us several stories about what a jerk this goat was.
I'll always remember that goat.
I did marine wildlife and birding tours. Every spring when the Orcas came north into our bay they'd come up to the boat to check it out and say hi. They'd rub up against the boat and swim around. We'd let kids touch their fins, they were quite docile. The only animal we were EVER attacked by was Arctic Terns.
Terns are really small for seabirds but they are jerks. They are so aggressive because, for who knows why, they build their nests on the ground rather than in trees. There are trees around, they could use the trees to build nests in. But no, they'd rather just terrorize anyone who makes the mistake of coming near their nest. Foxes, weasels, people, bears, whatever. Terns will attack you.
One day we were watching an Arctic Tern chasing an eagle around at least a mile off shore. A tourist on our boat was trying to capture it with a telephoto lens, and the tern didn't like this guy's attitude so it tried to peck a $2000 lens to pieces.
Have worked in various wildlife rehab/research facilities, including a bird sanctuary where we did mist-netting (setting up very fine nets between trees to catch songbirds) and banding of wild birds for research/population counts. Handled everything from thrushes to woodpeckers to crows to sparrows...and the biggest jerks?
Most of the birds were scared or curious when we took them out of the nets. The chickadees? Were f'ing pissed. There was something bizarrely respectable about it. Here I am holding a bird smaller than the palm of my hand whose head I could crush with my f'ing thumb, and it's going, "You may be bigger than me but if you don't let me go I will rip your f'ing cuticle off."
Right now it's the short tailed leaf nosed fruit bat.
I'm an intern in a well known zoo. We have a wet cave filled with probably 1,000 of these f'ers. The door is surrounded by a wire cage. When we go to feed them we just let the door open and let the bats fly in the cage. When we leave we have to heard them into the cave. As an intern I'm not allowed to touch them. So I put my hand up by them to guide them.
Except they don't like that and they'll fly right in my face and hover there for a few minutes.
One day I was by myself doing it and one of the little f'ers would not get in the damn cave. I stood there for like 10 minutes doing jazz fingers and he just hung there.
Swans are pure devil spawn.
They want to kill anything that moves near them. Sweet harmless baby ducks born on the pond? Initiate murder instinct. Man who feeds me and cleans my awful poop everyday? Start up the murder protocol.
Even the dumbest of invertebrates knew that we fed them and would be kinder. Swans see you bringing them food from across the park and are furious that "YOU STOLE MY FOOD I NEVER HAD AND PUT IT IN THAT BUCKET YOU'RE BRINGING TOWARD ME AND I AM GOING TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF THIS GROUNDHOG NEAR ME BECAUSE OF IT, AND THEN TRY TO MURDER YOU."
Swans are the worst.
Zebras are jerks. Our zebras shared an exhibit with the giraffes. We had a giraffe platform where visitors could feed the giraffes carrots, grain, and other goodies (according to the giraffe diet, of course). The zebras wanted the goodies and would kick the giraffes so the giraffes would drop their food, then the zebras would eat it.
THIS ONE F'ING OCTOPUS.
I was volunteering at an aquarium in the cephalopod section. One day the power was out, so we were on backup generators and we were running all over to make sure everything necessary to keep the animals alive was still running. The tanks where we kept the giant pacific octopuses (these octopuses are about 8 or 9 feet across) didn't have a solid top to close it up - instead the top portion of the tank is covered by astroturf. Octopus suckers can't work on astroturf, so they can't climb out. In theory.
This b*%# jams herself into the water outtake in her tank while no one is paying attention. Water keeps going in, but none can get out. She makes a f'ing waterfall out of the tank and tries to ride it to freedom. We caught her just after she flopped onto the floor.
They're just too f'ing smart.
A hand-raised wallaby named Wallace Montgomery. He was hand-raised (translation: f'ing psycho) and then given to us when he became a wee bit overwhelming for his previous caretaker.
Feeding time? Prepare to be be gouged by his razor sharp nails, bit on your softest parts, and the bowl WILL be knocked out of your hands.
Cleaning time? He will grab your rake and shovel, hit you with them, and kick you when you bend down to pick up your stuff.
Trying to give him fresh straw to sleep on? Nope. He shredded the bag it came in. He kicked the fresh straw into the yard. He picked up the dirty pissy straw and rubbed it all over you.
I love him immensely. Fun fact: if you pick him up mid-tantrum, he will lay his head on your shoulder and give you three solid minutes of snuggles before recommencing your attempted murder.
Cassowary. If anyone need to into their enclosure there had to be two others in riot gear. Nothing makes you poop yourself more than scrambling behind the shields and hearing the karate kick of the gods smashing a shield behind you.
I'm 100% certain velociraptors still exist and they just pretend to be these a-holes when they lose their teeth.
Aldabra tortoises. They have an outdoor pen, but obviously they are stuck in a smaller indoor enclosure during the colder months.
They won't leave you the f- alone. I was watering the plants at one point, when two big males came up behind me and pinned me to the wall. I pinwheeled my arms and fell onto one's back...sort of got to ride him.
Other times, the decide to sit RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE DOOR. So you're stuck until you convince them to move. You certainly aren't going to move 500 pounds of tortoise on your own.
If you put a squeegee against the wall, the simply HAVE to knock it over and sit on it.
Got the hose out? Yup. Gotta sit on it.
Bringing out food? Sit right in the f'ing feed troughs.
When you've been alive since before the Civil War, you tend to sit a lot.
Galapagos Tortoises. There's a teaching zoo near where I live, and a few years back they had to evacuate due to a wildfire. Afterwards the local paper did a piece on it and interviewed the people who had to evacuate the animals. They have lions, water buffalo, cougars, hyenas, all kinds of large animals. Which was the hardest to evacuate?
The Galapagos tortoise. He is enormous, bad-tempered, and much more difficult to train than most of the other animals. Getting him out of his enclosure and onto a truck was apparently quite the challenge, especially given the short time-frame they had for evacuation.
That Galapagos Tortoise was like, "F- you. I knew Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin was a friend of mine. You, zookeeper, are no Charles Darwin."
A popular wildlife rehabilitation centre in South Africa called Moholoholo has arguably the world's most famous honey badger, called Stoffel. Now I am sure none of you need an introduction to how f'ing savage these animals are, but this particular b&#%* has actually featured on multiple TV shows because of his antics.
In the first few years of his life at the centre, he dug his way into the Lion enclosure TWICE and attacked the alpha male of the pride both times.So the Honey Badger actually has this incredible survival mechanism - their skin is really tough and really loose. When the lion clamped his jaws around Stoffel, he was actually able to rotate his skeleton within the skin and turn around to bite the lion on the nose. After the lion dropped him, Stoffel continued to terrorize the pride but none of them wanted to be anywhere near him. I think eventually they had to tranquilize him so they could treat his wounds.
When he kept digging his way under the wall of his enclosure, it had to be rebuilt 2 metres deeper into the soil. When he opened up cracks in the concrete and escaped, those had to be covered with metal sheet. When he used rocks/sticks to create a tower and climb over the wall, they removed them... only for him to steal a zookeeper's broom and climb out using that.
(Rehab centre worker) Brian said he woke up to Stoffel scraping at the door, so he grabbed a 10,000 Volt stun gun from his cupboard and zapped the honey badger with it... Stoffel didn't move. Didn't even flinch. Brian says he just got angrier and started growling. He had to climb out of the window and lock all the doors while they formulated a plan to contain this b&#%*.
I know many more stories of his antics, but my favourite is how after years of living on his own they decided to find him a female companion to join him in the enclosure. First thing Stoffel did?
Stood on her head and used her to climb over the wall.