Feb 122012

While their regular off-exhibit holding areas were being renovated, a pair of echidnas and several bettongs were given access to a service room overnight. Keepers first removed any items that the animals could damage or get hurt on. Bags of grain were raised out of their reach, but several heavy bags of bark chips were left in one corner since no one thought that they would bother them.

The following morning the keepers found that a small hole had been scratched into the corner of one of the bags and some bark chips had been spilled on the floor, but other than that the temporary housing had worked out just fine.

Soon, however, one of the echidnas was found to be missing.

Keepers moved the bags of bark chips, thinking that the animal might have crawled underneath, or wedged himself between the bags and the wall. When he wasn’t found there the search moved out into the exhibit on the chance that he may have been able to squeeze past the door.

Twenty minutes later the exhibit had been scoured several times and there was still no sign of the echidna. The keepers decided to check the storeroom again and someone remembered the hole in the bag. The bag was dumped out and there, sleeping peacefully in a little nest hollowed out of the chips, was the missing echidna.

Feb 122012

Visitors watching the chimpanzees frolicking in their outdoor enclosure were dismayed to see one of the chimps grab a bird that had gotten a little too close. The chimp seemed more curious than anything else, and although he was holding it tightly, the bird appeared to be unharmed.

A keeper, seeing what had happened, went in to try to rescue the bird. Knowing that it is impossible to simply take something away from a chimp if it doesn’t want to give it up, the keeper grabbed a banana to offer as a trade.

The chimp was tempted by the banana, but apparently wasn’t convinced. He looked longingly at the banana and then back at the bird. He wanted the banana, but wasn’t ready to give up his prize. He looked back and forth from the bird to the banana several more times. Each time he reached for the banana the keeper made it clear that he could only have it if he handed over the bird.

Eventually the banana won out. The chimp lifted up the hand with the bird in it and took one last longing look at the struggling bird. Then he calmly bit the bird’s head off and nonchalantly handed the body to the keeper in exchange for the banana.

Feb 122012

Veterinarians and keepers were working on a sedated female ibex who was having problems with giving birth. The female had been in labor for hours and was exhausted from trying to pass the baby, which was twisted around so as to prevent it from fitting into the birth canal. To complicate matters the female was a small individual and the baby was large. Also, although they didn’t know it until later, the baby had been dead for several days and was starting to decompose.

One of the vets had managed to reach up the birth canal and get the baby untangled. The head and front legs were in the canal but the shoulders were stuck and the vet couldn’t pull hard enough. She asked one of the keepers to grab hold of the legs and help her pull.

After a few minutes of futile tugging, they decided that they needed more muscle. One of the other keepers present was a big, burly fellow so he was the obvious choice. He was more than happy to help. He was fairly new at the zoo and this was the first time he had ever participated in this sort of procedure.

He knelt down next to the others and got a good grip on one of the legs. Tugging firmly yet gently so as not to cause any damage, they began to pull. Soon someone commented that they could feel it start to move. Suddenly, the baby’s shoulder gave way and the new keeper found himself holding the unattached leg in his hands. His face expressed quite plainly that this possibility had never crossed his mind; in fact, for a few seconds he looked as if he might lose his lunch.

The vet, however, was thrilled. It was the shoulders that were stuck; if they could get the other one off too the baby would practically slide out. So, having fought once to keep his lunch down, that keeper gamely did the same for the other leg. Only this one was worse because he knew what to expect.

In the end, though, as the veterinarian had predicted, with both shoulders gone, the baby was pulled out easily. And, although she was no doubt sore for a while, the female ibex came through fine.

Feb 122012

A keeper hosing in the indoor flight cage couldn’t figure out why one particular hummingbird was being such a pest. The bird was hovering just inches in front of her face and would not go away. She knew that hummingbirds will often respond that way to red lipstick or earrings, but she wasn’t wearing anything red.

Later, when she happened to look in a mirror, she discovered the reason for the bird’s attention: an angry, bright red pimple right in the middle of her forehead.

Feb 122012

Keepers were working with the veterinarian on a hot, sunny, summer day to catch several small ibex kids for their shots. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before everyone was bathed in sweat.

One of the keepers, on releasing a young ibex, looked down and saw that his palms were coated with shed ibex hair. Loudly enough for everyone to hear he exclaimed, “Oh, no! My mother always warned me that this would happen if I didn’t stop.”

Feb 122012

To prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce aggression among the goats in the walk-in contact area the young males were routinely castrated. One year a new method was used: elastic bands placed on the base of the scrotum. The bands cut off circulation and the entire scrotum simply atrophied and fell off. Although this sounds horrible, it was supposedly a fairly painless method.

None of the keepers, however, could recall ever finding one of the scrotums. It’s possible that they were swept up unnoticed during the regular cleaning, but keepers always wondered if it wasn’t possible that some lucky children took home special souvenirs of their trip to the zoo.

Feb 122012

The sun conures were in the midst of a breeding frenzy. They had been copulating repeatedly all day, to the extent that the male had plucked most of the feathers off of the top of the female’s head, which was raw and bleeding.

One keeper mentioned in passing to another: “I see the conures are screwing their brains out today.”

The other keeper replied, “Oh, is that what happened to her head?”

Feb 122012

One keeper claimed that one of her favorite tricks when the tour bus passed near the camel yard was to reach down to the ground with a couple of Milk Duds hidden in her hand, pretend to pick up some camel pellets, and then pop the brown candy into her mouth in front of the astonished visitors.

Feb 122012

Keepers have been known to play practical jokes on one another, but this one has to take the cake.

In addition to his other duties, one particular keeper was responsible for maintaining a large terrarium located in one of the animal department offices which contained only a solitary snake.

The keeper changed the water daily and offered the snake freshly-killed mice regularly. He never saw the snake move, but it seemed to move around a lot when no one was around, and its appetite was good—the mice were always gone by the next morning.

After several months of this routine, the keeper’s fellow workers let him in on the joke: the snake was a fake. They had been sneaking in when he wasn’t around to remove the mice and rearrange the rubber snake into different positions.

He was rather embarrassed, of course, but did manage to see the humor in the situation. And at the annual zoo staff awards night a few months later he received an engraved plaque commemorating the event. This award, aptly named the Golden Nugget Award, consisting of two pieces of dog feces mounted on the plaque, is awarded annually to the most deserving individuals.

Feb 122012

When the zoo tour bus drove past the Pere David’s deer yard, one keeper used to pause from his raking, lean congenially on his shovel, wave and smile broadly at the people on the train, and call out, “Hi there! I’m Father David. And these are my deer.”