I Work(ed) in a Zoo

A sun conure like Penny

Today’s daily prompt is zoo.

I worked in a zoo. No, I mean I really worked in a zoo. Some of my workplaces feel like a zoo, but I actually worked in a real, live zoo in Knoxville. I was a birdkeeper, and I actually really liked the job. In many ways dealing with the sh*t in the real zoo was more fun than dealing with it in an office that just feels like a zoo.

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You know the office bully? She’s the one that waits for you to say something that might be a tad controversial or for you to hesitate on offering an opinion. Then she takes you down in a flurry of backhanded jabs or snarling bites. Give her one inch, and you will regret you ever let your guard down. Iggy was our bully at the zoo. The black swan was sequestered in a back section of the back pond because he was so mean. We could not take the chance of a child sticking his hand through the fence. Iggy was ferocious. And swans are big, muscular birds with massive wings. I had to ease up to the fence and grab the food bowl before Iggy ran over and attacked me. We left a large stick right by the opening. As we put the food bowl back in we’d take the stick and hold Iggy back lest we be beat to death by the big black angry winged bully.


And, then, of course, there’s the office talker. He comes over to your desk and talks about politics or his family or his next project ad nauseum. He’s nice enough, but there’s too much of him for too long. Penny was a sun conure that I tried to teach how to talk and do tricks. She was doing pretty good about doing tricks, but she’d just shriek all the time. I never could quite get her to the level where her language was more entertaining than irritating. And intermittently, she reach over and bite the crap out of my hand. Ouch!

And you know that group that is totally anti-social. They hide around corners and talk about everybody else in hushed tones. I want to tell them to come over and chat with the rest of us, but for some reason, they kind of creep me out. The Marabou Storks were in an enclosure off the African plains. I had to enter through a barn that was damp and moist and stunk like hot, sweaty animals. I would throw them meatballs of raw horsemeat across the ravine. There were four of them that would stand in a row. They’d catch each one with their big beaks, throw it to the back of their throats and swallow in one big gulp. They’d tap their beaks on each other and just stare off into the distance until another meatball came their way.

Marabou Stork

Don’t forget the stinky woman with the bad body odor. You try to be respectful but can’t help but hold your breath when you are in close proximity. You wonder if she ever notices that you have labored breathing or that you turn blue when talking to her. The emu enclosure was filled with this liquidy sticky poop that we literally had to shovel up out of the dirt. It was like picking up pudding out of mud. The big stinky birds stood there watching while I tried to clean the enclosure without looking or breathing.

And, of course, there’s the office sweetie who is always being sweet things to the office for everyone to eat. Everybody loves her. She makes you feel like the most interesting person every time you talk to her. The toucans were so beautiful, and they had these lovely long beaks. They’d literally look down their beaks at you as if they were kissing you with their eyes. Feeding them grapes was so much fun. They’d catch them, toss them up in the air and gulp them down. Then they’d look at you like the cat that ate the canary. I loved the toucans. It was a highlight of my day.

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My personal favorite is the smartest guy in the office. He seems to know everything. I could listen to him talk forever just because I learn so much. He seems to lead a charmed life, and everyone looks up to him. The sulfur-crested cockatoo was our star. That bird was so smart I would swear he was trying to talk to me. I’d walk into his enclosure, and he’d strut over, throw his comb up on his head, lift his foot and cock his head at me. Then, he’d turn around and run up one of his ladders and start talking. He was beautiful and magnificently entertaining.

Sarus Cranes

And then there’s the rest of the office color. Each one has its own idiosyncrasies and quirks, and each one has some lovely attributes. To call them background would be a vast understatement. They ARE the show. At the real zoo, I spent my days taking care of each of them with their own unique needs. The ducks would get frozen in the water in the pond, and I’d have to break them out. The Sarus Crane was so dangerous that the women were forbidden to feed him anymore. The Nenes had a million babies, and we had to bring them inside to take care of them all. And the Bald Eagle just demanded your respect as it took your breath away. Every last one of them spent their days eating and pooping. It was called job security for a zookeeper.

Somedays I miss the zoo. Somedays I feel like I’m right back there among my feathered friends. Frequently I wish my responsibilities were as simple as feeding, picking up poop and dodging real bites. Other days I’m glad I don’t have to get my hands that dirty. Then there are the days when I wish I could find that stick to put Iggy back in his place. It always felt a little exhilarating to survive the battle.





5 Comments on “I Work(ed) in a Zoo

  1. Hi Sharon! This is Lori Khan. I just stumbled across your blog. It’s wonderful! Keep writing, I’m a fan.

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