What does it mean to be a Zoo Keeper?

When I think about what it means to be a keeper, what thoughts does it evoke? At first, there is the obvious one…passion. Keepers are deeply passionate about their profession and the animals they care for. But if we take a moment to peel back the layers, we find that there is much more to these individuals than first meets the eye.

Other thoughts such a dedicated, empathetic, nurturing, studious and multi-skilled jump to mind. These comfortably rest alongside quirky, diverse, spirited and unique.

If we all zoom out for just a minute, it’s easy to acknowledge that without zoo keepers, there is no zoo. This extraordinary cohort is the glue that binds the entire operation together. Zoo keeping is a fluid career, one that grows from a solid foundation of basic fundamentals and understanding what it is that we need to provide in order for the animals in our care to live happy and healthy lives. From this, many branches shoot off in a range of different directions and thus, zoo keepers really do become the ultimate ‘jack of all trades’.

During the course of any given week, a keeper may well indeed be required to contribute to a vast array of different elements of daily zoological operations. These may include, but certainly are not limited to: presentations, media, record keeping, exhibit design, construction, maintenance, cleaning, project management, teaching, mobile exhibiting, triage, vet nursing, first aid, behavioural biology, animal training, diving, horticulture, landscaping and rehabilitation…but to name just a few.

Zoo keepers also provide a vital cog in the global effort to conserve our planet and its species. Whether it’s the keeper delivering an educational talk in a small wildlife park, to an aquarist informing guests on the threat of plastics, to those that devote their personal time and energy to in-situ efforts all over the world. By the very nature of the role, zoo keepers acquire skills and knowledge that are so unique, they often provide the missing link to stagnating conservation projects and recovery programs.

October 4 is International Zookeeper Day and is proudly sponsored by the International Congress of Zoo Keepers (ICZ), which is a conglomerate of the world’s zoo keeping associations. This day was first chosen by the staff of Barcelona Zoo, given it is also celebrated worldwide as the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and, since 1979, the Patron Saint of Ecology. He preached that it is the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature. Many of the stories that surround the life of St. Francis say that he had a great love for animals and the environment.

Today is a day for celebrating and acknowledging the incredible contribution of keepers throughout the world. On behalf of Taronga, I’d like to thank the dedicated teams at both our zoos for their tireless efforts and commitment to animals and our environment.

Mike Drinkwater, President of the Australasian Society of Zookeeping

Original article: Taronga Conservation Society Australia