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As a kid, the zoo seemed like a fantastical place where the animals poked their heads out to see us behind the glass panes or the metal bars, and happily retreated to their expansive lair whenever they felt like it.


Unfortunately, the logistical realities of zookeeping aren't quite so posh.

There often seems to not be enough space for the animals; feeding, mating, and cleaning is a constant, overwhelming battle for zookeepers; keeping ticketed customers happy around somewhat unpredictable animals far from their home habitats can be a nightmare.

If you ever wanted to know just what goes in to maintaining a the average zoo, a recent Reddit thread is for you. Who knew how many experienced zookeepers use Reddit so much?

gomi-panda asked, "Zookeepers of Reddit, what's the low-down, dirty, inside scoop on zoos?"


Many people talked about their zoos' emergency preparedness. The plans in place for when disaster strikes might surprise you.

So Basically Unarmed

"Partner was a zookeeper in Dallas. Safety protocols for when a large, dangerous animal escapes its enclosure dictate that you lock yourself in whatever room you can get to quickest and grab the nearest weapon..."

"...which, for most zookeepers, was a broom or rake for cleaning up animal poop."

-- musical_hog

Get In Line

"I had to draft the zoo's contingency plan for all sorts of emergencies. Flood, tornado, extreme heat, war or attacks, you name it. The plan included a prioritized list of which animals in the collection we would have to sacrifice to feed to the other animals in extreme situations."

"I literally created a zoo food chain. Humans were left off the list entirely."

-- dogsfrogsmonologues

One Chance

"I used to volunteer weekly at a large zoo and at one point management started doing monthly dangerous animal escape drills. Someone would run around in a lion onesie and we'd have to react as if one of the large animals had escaped."

"It was hilarious but one of the funniest things I was taught was that if an incident did occur you have to tell the nearby guests to get inside only once. If after that they refuse to follow you indoors (the protocol was to hole up in the large activity centre buildings) , you're to leave them there, go inside yourself and lock the doors."

"It makes sense because people can be very stupid and you don't want to risk everyone's lives because of one Karen, but it amused me no end that the protocol was to just let them get mauled."

-- thebourgeoiseiee

Other zoo workers described the rather bizarre behavior of some animals they've taken care of on the job. Animals, as we know, are often smarter than we think.

So it's best to keep zoo-goers a little in the dark about what's going on.

Keep Your Fruits to Yourselves

"Some people like to bring fruit and stuff to throw into the animals cages, even though they're not suppose to. If you're around and someone throws a pineapple into the gorilla or chimpanzee dens, gtfo. They will throw that thing full blast at someone."

"I saw a man get hit full force right in the side of the head and he was lights out. Pineapple exploded on impact. Paramedics came and everything."

-- Sedintwinz

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Mourning Period

"We closed the baboon exhibit because a baboon had a still birth and the troupe was 'grieving.' "

"In reality they were throwing parts of the infant corpse around and there was nothing we could do about it."

-- randomiser5000

Loving on the Buckets

"I worked with large tortoises. We had these 5-gallon buckets for cleaning the poop out of enclosures and other buckets for feeding them fresh grass we cut. The first day on the job I took both buckets into the pen and started by dumping out the grass."

"Then I went around to collect poop. I heard this awful loud grunting and something breaking. One of the 300 lb males tried to bang the bucket in front of visitors and flattened it. He would even follow me around just in case I might leave more innocent buckets unattended."

-- DrteethDDS

Draw Straws?

"Aquariums have captive breeding programs for some of the dolphins and whales, but they are too difficult to transport for mating. So they have to use artificial insemination. Which requires semen samples from whales."

"Which means that it's someones job to get the dolphins and whales in order to collect the sperm. It's part of the animal's training, and the whales will roll over and present their genitals on command."

-- plaid-lemming

Finally, some focused on the smell. We know, intellectually, that their must be some truly vile stenches kicking around in the zoo profession.

But apparently, know amount of mental imagination could possibly prepare one for the reality of it.

Train Car for One

"The poor penguin keepers can never quite get rid of the miasma of dead fish that envelopes them. As for me, the stinkiest job I ever had to do was cleaning out the duck ponds."

"Managed to empty a whole train carriage that evening, even though I had changed and my work clothes were double-bagged."

-- ShadyElmm

A Solitary Life

"If you work with the animals there's a good chance you'll not be able to have any kind of social life, between the long hours/weekends and the stench."

"I've been kicked out of stores after work because I apparently stunk way worse than I thought I did - even after scrubbing off!"

"And I'm around animals every day, but I still can't stand when otter / sea lion keepers are around me in 'all-hands' meetings. The rotten fish + ferrety otter smell combo is a gagger. Meanwhile, I work with apes, and they say that I smell like I haven't showered in a decade (again...even after I shower)."

-- bindobub

Spit*

"Our camels will spit if you piss them off, and it's not just saliva like most people think."

"You really really really really don't want to upset our camels if you have any plans the rest of the week, please and thank you!"

-- leepingphal


So next time you find yourself in a zoo, give a nod to the zookeepers you see. You never know that insane things they've seen or touched that morning.

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