A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper
5:30AM: Wake up to alarm blaring, hit snooze
5:35AM: Wake up to alarm blaring, become enraged, and hit snooze
5:40AM: Wake up to alarm blaring, cry a little bit, then get out of bed
5:45-6:00AM: Get ready as fast as humanly possible since you snoozed your alarm twice. Good news is you wear the same uniform to work everyday, and you’re covered in feces, sweat, food stuff, and various other mystery fluids in no time, so your appearance is low on the priority list. Slap a hat on, and you’re good to go.
6:00-6:10AM: Realize you haven’t had breakfast and if you don’t eat anything, you are going to pass out by 9 am. Ransack your kitchen searching for a quick easy breakfast. Seriously contemplate those last few cookies, before deciding on an apple and granola bar. Throw together something for lunch which most definitely includes those overlooked cookies, probably another granola bar, and maybe a hot pocket. Who knows.
6:15AM: Grab all ten thousand of your belt accessories (knife, leatherman, keys, pepper spray, phone clip, WHATEVER ELSE), throw on your shoes, and RUN out the door.
6:16AM: RUN back into your house because you forgot your breakfast, lunch, and coffee/tea
6:17AM: RUN back to your car, throw your possessions and your body into the vehicle, start it up, and contemplate your morning commute playlist.
6:18-6:20AM: land on something you maybe didn’t quite want to listen to but HERE WE ARE.
6:20-6:45AM: Drive to work. Hopefully your commute is great. You’re CHUGGING that coffee and devouring the apple and granola bar. You feel your heart start to race as the caffeine pumps through your brain. You forget how to blink.
6:45AM: Arrive to work. Sit in your car for a minute making a mental note of how clean you currently are and lament this short term state.
6:45-7:00AM: Head into the breakroom. Drop your belongings off in your locker, fill up your water bottle, almost forget to put your lunch in the fridge, grab a radio and clip it onto your belt which now weighs 10 lbs and is actively pulling your whole ass pants down. Look over the schedule and daily reports, socialize if you’re into that kind of thing. Try to get zen.
7:00AM: Clock in. YOUR DAY HAS BEGUN. START RUNNING.
7:00-7:20AM: Head to your assigned areas, open up the building(s), check your locks and check your animals.
7:20-7:30AM: Read over any notes left from previous keepers, prepare AM diets and/or medications. Splash yourself with the first of many mystery fluids/foods. Hastily try to wipe it off and fail. Accept defeat.
7:30-8:00AM: Feed/medicate your animals, see all their angelic faces staring back at you. Maybe cry at how cute they are. MAYBE cry at how mean they are sometimes. You do you.
8:00-8:30AM: Does another keeper work in your area? Perhaps they arrive. Do you work alone? Perhaps you use this time to lament this fact. In any case, you do your first round of dishes for the day and start preparing the habitats for your animals.
8:30-9:30AM: This is when you really start to get dirty. Slip and fall in the mud? Nice - you’ve got mud on your butt now. Cleaning a pool? Great - you’ve definitely accidentally sprayed yourself at least twice and you’re all wet. Is the sun blasting you with its rays? Cool - now you’re sweating bullets; maybe you’ve already soaked through that shirt. Are bugs around? Baller - you’re covered in mosquito bites. Perhaps it’s raining or snowing? All right! - Congrats, you’re miserable...and wet. In any case, you HAUL ASS to get the habitats ready and enrichment so animals can be on habitat by the time guests arrive. Oh yeah, you forgot to prep enrichment, so you hurriedly rack your brain for ideas and throw something actually incredible together in about 35 seconds. You also want to set aside time to train your animals in the morning! You’re a pro at multitasking so this should be no issue, right? Right??
9:30-9:45AM: Shift your animals out onto their habitats for the day. PHEW, you made it just in time. But don’t take a breather yet, now it’s time to start cleaning AS FAST AS YOU CAN because you have approximately 10 acres of floors to sweep, walls to clean, and mesh to scrub. Get going.
9:45-11:30AM: You’ve probably spent this entire time cleaning. There’s never any shortage of areas needing to be cleaned. The universe tends toward chaos and that shit on the wall that you didn’t notice right away and have since inadvertently leaned up against isn’t gonna clean itself. Oh, and you now have feces on you. It’s honestly a miracle you made it this long without donning the poo. You’ve also most definitely sprayed yourself at least 4 times while cleaning, possibly even down your boot. Congrats! You’ve got soaked socks and your life is worse because of it. Make sure to check on your animals several times during this to make sure they’re doing ok. Oh look, they’re playing with your enrichment activity - you cry a bit because you love them so much.
11:30-12:00PM: OMG you finished cleaning, yay! You’re so tired! Thank Darwin you ate that granola bar and apple because even now, you’re starving and ready for lunch. Time to lock up those newly cleaned holdings, check on your animals again, and more than likely, respond to a radio call that something has dropped something over a fence line or into your animal habitat. Ask the person on the radio if the guest would like their (pacifier, cell phone, shoe, dildo, whatever the fuck) back, and reel back in horror when they say yes after you’ve just seen your animal chewing on it. Depending on your species, contemplate how TF you’re gonna retrieve that item and return it to the guest. You spend at least 30 minutes on this. It’s not easy. You trudge up to the guest in question, hand them their lost item, and try to inject as much warning into your voice as possible when saying “you should probably just throw that away.” They likely ignore you. On the way back to the building you definitely get asked at least twice if you’re about to feed something. You think to yourself: “yeah...me.” (Or maybe you say it out loud, live your truth).
12:00PM: LuNcH tImE bAbY!!!! You dab your way to the lunch room. YESSSSSS!!!!
12:00-1:00PM: This estimate is generous since a lot of places only schedule half hour lunches. Regardless of your lunch duration, you will almost certainly receive another radio call about another dropped item in or around your habitats. You cry a little bit knowing that you can’t really reheat a hot pocket once you’ve already bitten into it, and it’s just not gonna be as good by the time you get back. You head out to address the second (or maybe third, fourth, fifth, hundredth) item retrieval, reunite the precious goods to the guests, get stopped approximately 7 times along the way to be asked if you’re able to feed something, and finally return to the break room to savor the rest of that nutritious(?) lunch. The hot pocket and cookies are devoured; the granola bar remains untouched - this is its fate.
1:00-1:45PM: Riding that post lunch high, you check on your animals again, maybe offer more enrichment, engage in a training session, or head out to do a keeper chat (perhaps it’s a combo of all of these things!). You put those sparkling public speaking skills to use as you draw in the crowd to learn about the animals you love so much! You’re gushing to them about some cool adaptation they have or an interesting personality quirk in their species, and someone interrupts you to ask their name. You take a mental note of how many times during the chat you’ve already said the animal’s name (at least twice), and kindly repeat it for the person that interrupted you. While you are doing this, someone else interrupts that first interruption to ask the animal’s name. You start to practice your anger management mental exercises and you start to answer that person’s question, when BAM, yet another person interrupts that second interruption to ask what kind of animal this is. You take a nanosecond to recover your composure, then whip out all the basic info once again, ignoring everyone else who has attempted to scream another interrupted question at you, and plow on through back to what you were saying. What were you saying again…? You launch into the conservation information - the most important part for the guests to hear! 90% of them promptly leave since apparently this part is boring and you seem done talking about the “cool stuff.” You die a little inside. Eventually, you wrap up your talk - there were some truly lovely people with great questions that stick around to the end and you engage in an excellent conversation with them. This is what it’s all about! Most everyone else is rude, but that’s alright, you’re the punching bag and regardless, you’ll be riding that “great guest” high for the next 30 minutes. You look down and realize you have mystery hot pocket fluid on your shirt and realize it was there for your entire talk.
1:45-2:30PM: Time to get in the kitchen and show off those knife skills. Depending on the species of your animals you might be chopping up fruit into MICROSCOPIC pieces, maybe you’re weighing out biscuits, or perhaps you’re wielding that knife like a maniac as you hack through meat and bones. This is when you’ve got your playlist bumping and you’re probably singing along to the jams at the top of your lungs. If you have coworkers they’re either cool and hype you up or not cool and judge you. If you work alone, you have the option to do either of these things yourself.
2:30-3:00PM: If you’re lucky, you will have had time to work on your daily reports, answer emails, and tackle some of the mountain of computer work at various points earlier in the day. If it’s like most days, this is your ONLY TIME to do it so you do your best to cram approximately 2 hours of computer work into 30 minutes. Maybe you’ve had a refill on that coffee and your fingers are flying over the keyboard at the speed of light. Maybe you haven’t and this sucks. In any case, it is what it is and you’ve got to get it done. You more than likely receive another call about a dropped item in/around your habitats. Here we go again...
3:00-3:30PM: This is usually your final push before closing routine begins, so this is the time to prepare enrichment for that night and tomorrow, plan out your PM training sessions, set up holdings for the animals to shift into at the end of the day, and get a grip. At this point you’ve likely collected at least 4 different stains on your shirt and pants, you’re sweating, your hair is a mess (bless this hat for covering all manner of sins), and at least a few new bruises, cuts, scrapes and/or holes/tears in your clothes. Looking great, babe!
3:30-4:30PM: You start your closing routine, to include shifting animals into their night quarters, offering PM diets/medications, setting up enrichment activities for the rest of the evening and overnight, and engaging them in training sessions to work on some of those behaviors you’ve been working toward for months. Even though this time is usually rushed, it’s one of your favorite parts of the day because you get to spend some quality time with the animals you have dedicated your life to, and help build those relationships that make this all worth it. You cry a little bit again, thinking about how much you love them, and probably give them extra treats because of it.
4:30-4:45PM: With all of your animals secured in their areas, fed, and entertained, you begin to close down your building(s) for the night, telling all of your animals how much you love them and that you’ll see them tomorrow before turning out the lights. You finish locking up the building(s) and head to the break room.
4:45-5:00PM: SPRINTING back to the previously locked up building(s), you double check all your locks, because you won’t be able to sleep soundly with that uneasy feeling of forgetting something, and discover everything was as it should be. You head back to the break room.
5:01PM: You immediately second guess your second guess and contemplate going back to re-re-check those locks. Will this torture never end.
5:02-5:15PM: Finishing up the daily reports, and responding to those last few emails, you shut down the computer for the night, and start gathering all the possessions you hastily chucked into your locker that morning. You feel 5 years older than you did this morning.
5:15-5:25PM: Your coworkers are likely filing in around this time, finishing up their reports as well. You think back on how clean and alert you all were this morning. By now everyone is looking haggard. You trade battle stories and discuss the cute things your animals did during the day. You discuss your plans for the evening. You’re all exhausted.
5:25-5:30PM: Clock out. DON’T YOU EVEN THINK about clocking out late. Overtime is not approved and you will be skewered.
5:30PM: Hop in your car, throw your belongings in the seat next to you, take the first deep breath you’ve taken all day, and realize you haven’t peed once throughout the day. Contemplate the likelihood of a UTI developing if you wait to go until you get home. Decide to drive home anyway.
5:30-6:00PM: YOU SHOULD HAVE PEED AT WORK. An accident on the highway puts you in very real danger of peeing your pants. Does it really matter at this point?
6:00-6:01PM: Pull up at your home and SPRINT INSIDE and to the bathroom. Wowie, just in time.
6:01-6:15PM: Say hello to the pets you likely ignore as you tore a path to the bathroom. Give them some dinner, and contemplate your own dinner. You spot the cheez-its on the counter and bottle of wine in the fridge. You think, “wine not?” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You’re losing it.
6:15-6:30PM: After snarfing down handfuls of cheez-its and pouring yourself a glass of wine, you strip off the torn, battered, soiled uniform that was so pristine just 10 hours ago, drop it immediately into the washing machine, and hop in the shower. Thus commences the copious scrubbing of what looks like dirt but turned out to be a sunburn, and what looks like a sunburn but turns out to be dirt. You find at least 3 new bruises and a mystery scratch on your elbow.
6:30-6:45PM: Towel off and throw on pajayjays. WTF are you gonna eat for dinner.
6:45-7:15PM: Option A: prepare home-cooked dinner using whatever you have on hand, resulting in some frankensteinian kitchen sink meal that doesn’t really go together but is edible. Option B: prepare home-cooked dinner using ingredients you set out the night before…..LOL YEAH RIGHT. Option C: order takeout.
7:15-8:30PM: Nom your food, sit on your couch, veg, do whatever TF. Probably almost fall asleep at least once.
8:30-11:00PM: You’re rejuvenated from your inadvertent nap. Good news: you are ready and raring to go on all those night activities you had set aside. Bad news: your sleep schedule is fucked.
11:00PM: Best time of the dayyyyyyyy you’re in bed it’s time to sleeeeeep….zzzzzzz
12:01PM: Jolt awake and wonder if you checked all your locks.
Wanna learn more about the day in the life of a zookeeper? Check out our podcast and any of our Quick & Dirty episodes!