Feb 122012

Editor’s Note:
This story was told as part of a presentation at an AAZK conference. It is no doubt apocryphal but it’s fitting nonetheless.

Two raptor rehabilitation workers met for lunch at a local cafeteria. When they reached the cashier, the first man reached into his pocket and pulled out $1.50 and two dead mice. He asked his partner if he had any change and the other man reached into his pocket and pulled out 80 cents and a dead quail chick.

The cashier looked up at them in disgust and said emphatically, “There ain’t no way I’m taking that money!”

“Well, what are we supposed to do with it?” asked one of the men.

“You know what you can do with it!” replied the cashier. “You guys are crazy!”

Feb 122012

Editors note:
The following isn’t really a zoo story, as it takes place in a private veterinary clinic, but it seems to fit anyway. It was related to me by a veterinarian (no, not the one in the story) with whom I worked when she was a keeper.

An elderly woman had brought her old, ailing parakeet to the veterinarian to be put to sleep. The bird had been with her for a long time and she was very attached to it. Because of this, she told the vet that she wanted to stay with the bird until the end.

Although he couldn’t very well refuse, this didn’t make the vet very happy. He knew how difficult euthanasia can be with a small bird. The tiny, rapidly-beating heart is very difficult to hit with a needle, and unless the lethal fluid is injected directly into the heart the bird sometimes thrashes around for a while before expiring.

To spare the woman the anguish of watching her bird struggle in this way, the vet came up with an alternative plan. A method of euthanasia that is commonly used for small birds and mammals is to give their neck a quick snap, severing the spinal column and killing them instantly. Although it sounds horrible, this method of euthanasia, if done properly, is quick and painless. However, the vet didn’t think that he would be able explain that to the woman.

Instead, once he had the bird in his hand, he would step into the next room on pretense of needing something or other. Out of the woman’s sight, it would be a simple matter to give the bird’s neck a quick twist. He would then return to the woman and explain that the bird had expired peacefully in his hand.

The vet, however, neglected to consider one gruesome possibility.

As planned, he stepped into the next room and gave the bird’s neck a quick snap. To his horror the entire head came off in his hand. How to explain that to a grieving old lady?

Thinking frantically, the vet searched for an answer to his dilemma. He grabbed a Q-tip, shoved it down into the bird’s chest cavity, and forced the head onto the protruding cotton tuft. Then, with the bird cradled in his hand and its head supported between his thumb and forefinger he returned to the woman and nervously carried out the rest of his plan.

Fortunately for the vet, there was no blood on the body, and the woman didn’t ask to hold her dear, departed pet one last time. She took one last misty-eyed look and departed, no doubt a little saddened but knowing that she had done the best thing. Much to the vet’s relief, she left the body with him for disposal

Feb 112012

Keepers cleaning a remote paddock area took advantage of the fact that the area was closed to the public and got away with some things they couldn’t do with the public around. When nature called, rather than driving back to a building, they often simply relieved themselves on the spot. The animals certainly didn’t care and it saved on travel time.

One day, however, one poor keeper forgot that the paddock was surrounded by an electric fence. When the stream of urine hit the live circuit, he got the surprise of his life.

Although apparently quite painful, the jolt caused no lasting injury and soon the keeper was able to laugh about it and share the tale with his colleagues.

Each year, the staff at this zoo put together a “bloopers” video to be shown at an annual gathering. Naturally they wanted to include this incident but it hadn’t been recorded. They asked the keeper in question if he would mind re-enacting it for posterity. As you might imagine, he was a bit reluctant but finally agreed when he was assured that the fence would be turned off.

The group grabbed a video camera, piled into a truck, and headed back out to the scene of the crime. When everything was set, the keeper double-checked the fence to make sure it was turned off and then walked over to get in position for the camera.

Of course, as soon as his back was turned, someone quickly turned the fence back on!

So the poor guy got zapped a second time. Only this time it was in front of an audience, and it was caught on tape!

Feb 112012

The staff of a small zoo situated on a wooded mountain had its worst nightmare become reality one day: a raging forest fire. The fire was too close, and the wind was unpredictable, so the decision was made to evacuate the zoo.

Game wardens and animal control officers from surrounding counties came to lend assistance. Volunteers came to hose the fence lines around the zoo. Farmers, pet shop owners, and veterinarians, called offering shelter for the animals. The zoo director was busy answering phone calls and determining what to remove from the building.

Animal control officers assisted the maintenance man with loading a hawk, several owls and vultures, and a turkey. The two keepers captured and loaded the squirrel and spider monkeys. Lizards, bobcats, and a coatimundi were loaded into the zoo van and whisked away to the veterinarian’s office. The keepers’ cars were soon filled with various small mammals and reptiles. All that remained to be loaded were a pair of mountain lions, several muntjacs, and a 2O-foot-long python.

The veterinarian and the head keeper were preparing to tranquilize the two mountain lions when the fire chief informed them that the fire had been brought under control. Zoo staff were reluctant to believe him at first, for thick smoke was still drifting through the zoo. But, as it turned out, he was correct and they began returning the animals to their exhibits.

By that evening, the zoo had returned more or less to normal. The only reminders of the day’s events were the scent of burned wood and brush in the air and the fire truck parked at the end of the service road keeping a watch for stray sparks. Zoo staff, exhausted from a grueling thirteen hour day, adjourned to a local restaurant to unwind.

The fire, which had burned thirty acres, had come within eighty yards of the zoo before being brought under control. And in its path, the dedicated zoo staff had managed to evacuate three-quarters of the animal collection in less than forty-five minutes with no injuries to either the animals or themselves.

Feb 112012

A young boy had managed to get his head through the vertical bars of a low fence and had gotten stuck. Although he was bawling loudly, the boy was fairly calm. The same could not be said of his parents, who were frantically trying to free him. Every time they tried to pull the boy back the bars would hurt his ears and he would start bawling even louder.

Someone had notified Security, who was trying to locate some tool that could be used to pry the bars apart. Other people were searching for some butter or grease that could be used to lubricate the boy’s ears so his head could slip free.

In the midst of all this activity, a keeper whose own son must have had a similar experience showed up. Instead of pulling the boy backwards, he simply turned the boy’s shoulders sideways and pushed gently. No longer stopped by the span of his shoulders, the boy slipped easily through the bars and was lifted back over the fence and returned to his parents.

Feb 092012

One of the comments that keepers hear the most, and probably the one that becomes the most irritating, is the ubiquitous “What kind of animal are you?” Some keepers complain of hearing it several times a day, and they usually think “Don’t they realize that we’ve heard it a million times?” Sometimes, however, the shoe is on the other foot.

One day at the end of the day a group of keepers were standing around in the Administration building waiting to punch out and go home. The crowd parted to allow an armored car guard to pass through with a cart loaded with bags of money. One of the keepers told the guard that if he had any extra bags he would be glad to take them off his hands.

The guard came back with a polite answer, but from the expression on his face it was clear that he too had “heard it a million times before.”