Feb 162012

Editor’s Note:
The phrase “the great unwashed” was coined by Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873). I’m not sure what he had in mind with that phrase, but it seems to fit most keepers’ feelings about the general public fairly well. Particularly on free days!

This is not to say that keepers hate all zoo visitors, but if you’ve ever worked in a public setting you probably understand that there are always those special few who, intentionally or not, make things difficult. And it’s especially vexing in a zoo setting where it’s usually the animals that take the brunt of the abuse.

One of the great frustrations of working as a zookeeper is that you often don’t have time to stop and chat with the nice, polite families passing by but still have to go out and deal with the jerks.

Bulwer-Lytton is probably best known for the infamous opening to his novel Paul Clifford (1830) which begins, “It was a dark and stormy night….”

He is also credited with first using the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Feb 122012

After reading a sign in front of the white rhino exhibit titled “Urine and Dung” that explains how the rhinos mark their territories, a young boy turned to his mother and said, “Look, mom — it’s Ernie and Doug!”

Feb 122012

In spite of numerous signs prohibiting it, many people insist on feeding the animals. One man, his pockets filled with shelled peanuts, was trying to get the attention of a large male ibex. The goat was standing on a ridge of gunite where he could command a dominant view of the exhibit while remaining in the shade of the overhanging trees.

His perch was a good twenty feet from the public area, but just below the ridge was a prominent ledge onto which the man was lobbing peanuts. The goat, however, was completely ignoring the man and his offerings. Peanut after peanut landed on the ledge, only a few feet directly below the goat, but he never moved a muscle. The man was becoming more and more frustrated with each toss.

At this point a keeper happened to walk by and saw what was going on. Although he normally would have told the man to stop, in this case he simply laughed to himself and continued on, for he knew one thing that the visitor obviously didn’t: due to an injury a few years earlier, that ibex was totally blind in the eye that was facing out of the exhibit.

Feb 122012

One summer day keepers did a double take when they noticed a middle-aged woman pushing a stroller up the walk to the entrance to the children’s zoo. Sitting in the stroller, wrapped snugly in a brightly colored baby blanket, was a very contented, rather smug-looking, black miniature poodle. The dog seemed to be enjoying itself, relaxing in the stroller and watching all the people going by.

The woman was rather upset when she was told that she would have to take the dog out of the zoo. She didn’t see any problem as long as he behaved himself.

The best part of the situation is that the two of them had made it the length of the zoo before being discovered. Either nobody had looked at the stroller very closely, or else they had just thought that it was a particularly ugly child.

The keepers later wished that they had waited until the woman had actually entered the children’s zoo. They were dying to know if she would have purchased a ticket for the dog.

Feb 122012

Several young boys were reaching precariously over the railing in front of the lion cages and teasing the cats. By balancing on the railing and stretching their arms the boys could just get their hands close enough to the cage front to be dangerous. A keeper, seeing what was going, on decided to teach them a lesson.

This particular keeper was big and burly, and had a gruff, deep voice to match. He managed to sneak up behind the boys without their noticing, and the next time they reached out to the lions, he bent over them and let loose with a deafening roar.

The kids were so startled that they lost their grips on the railing and crashed to the ground.

Feb 122012

A keeper in the Australian section was in the kitchen preparing diets when a visitor poked her head in. The woman had observed one of the brush-tailed possums leaping out of one of the exhibits and into another, something that they did regularly. “Did you know that one of your animals is loose?” she asked.

Without missing a beat, and with a perfectly straight face, the keeper replied, “Of course. Why do you think I’m hiding in here?”

After a moment the keeper told the woman that she was kidding and went out to check on the situation.

Feb 122012

Young gorillas seem to attract more than their share of off-the-wall comments.

A visitor looking at a gorilla family asked a keeper what kind of animal they were. The keeper, slightly taken aback, replied that they were gorillas. The visitor, pointing at the infant gorillas clinging to their mothers, responded, “Oh, then what are those? Chipmunks?”

Another visitor, asked of the same young gorillas: “Are those little ones still in the chimpanzee stage?”

Feb 112012

A keeper was hosing in the indoor flight cage next to one of the life-size, wooden, flamingo cut-out graphics. A visitor asked why the bird allowed her to get so close. The keeper reached out and smacked the sign with her hand, producing a wooden thunk, and said, “I don’t know. It just never gets out of my way.”

Feb 112012

A keeper hosing a large, outdoor exhibit heard a visitor call, “Hey, buddy!”

The keeper shut the hose off and turned around. The visitor, a college age male, called out, “Where’s the fish?”

Not really sure what the man was referring to the keeper replied, “Which fish?”

“Any of them. Penguins, walruses, dolphins.”

“You haven’t named any fish yet!” called back the keeper, a little sarcastically, feeling that he could be a bit rude to someone who used “Hey, buddy!” to call to a stranger.

“Uh-the penguins.”

“The penguins are right over there in the aquatic bird house,” replied the keeper, emphasizing the word “bird.”

If the man noticed the sarcasm at all he gave no indication of it. He called back “OK, thanks!” and headed off to find his “fish.”

Feb 112012

A keeper closing the pachyderm house at the end of the day had locked the doors at one end of the huge building and was attempting to herd the remaining visitors out.

One man. who had just come in the open door, pushing his elderly grandmother in a wheelchair, asked if he could wheel her down to see the rhinoceros. The keeper explained politely that he really had to get everybody out of the building as soon as possible and that if he let them go down there then everybody else would want to.

To which the man replied, “That’s ok, she doesn’t have that long to live anyway,” and turned to leave. As they left the building both he and his grandmother were laughing at what apparently was some sort of a family joke.