Nancee Hutchinson cuts up fruits and vegetables for the animals in her care. Lacey Washut cleans food and body waste from an indoor enclosure. Leigh Davidson checks to make sure her animals have been given the proper medication and notes how much food they have eaten overnight. Bo McVay puts down strips of tape to mark the area needed for repainting safe lines in the indoor enclosures. Harley Yerdon spends his first day as a keeper on painting duty.
While there will be time to work with animals later, zookeepers at Riverside Discovery Center (RDC) in Scottsbluff are doing regular maintenance as part of their daily schedule.
Many people think zookeepers feed the animals, do a little cleaning and go home. While that is part of their job, there is much more to what they do. They have a set of complex tasks to complete each day, each one devoted to improving the welfare and quality of life of the animals in their care. They give talks to educate about animals and are advocates for conservation.
“Keepers are among those on the front lines of the zoo when it comes to education,” said Kristen Scaglione, National Zookeeper Week program coordinator. “They are on grounds amongst the public and work most closely with what the public wants to see, the animals.”
The 10th anniversary of Zookeeper week will be celebrated from July 16-22. It was started as another way to give keepers and zoos a dedicated week to raise awareness of what zoos do for animals in their care.
Keepers educate about an animal’s natural history, their relationship with the animals, and what they do each day. One of their most important tasks is educating visitors about what makes a species endangered and what visitors can do to make the world more sustainable for these animals.
“To take conservation a step further, keepers are also crucial on maintaining stable zoo populations of endangered species,” Scaglione said. “They create optimal, low stress conditions for breeding.”
Back at the zoo, Hutchinson, head zookeeper, is working with Washut and Davidson. They are summer keeper interns learning what it takes to be a good keeper. RDC has two indoor enclosures where the spider monkeys spend the night. One is for Scooter, affectionately called Scootie by the keepers. Scootie is separated from her peers because she had been kept as a pet…