There are zoo keepers and people who work with animals in zoos. The two are not one and the same. Both work within the same environment and do the same work but here the similarity ends.
Within the affluent West most (but not all) of the staff working with animals are zookeepers. Western zoo keepers have usually gone to college or served an apprenticeship to become zookeepers. They see the craft as their chosen profession. It is what they want to do! They both like and enjoy their work. They are interested in it. Many of these will have been influenced in their youth by zoo related books and TV programmes. They really have never wanted to do anything else.
The zookeepers are the number one cog in the wheel of zoo animal husbandry. It is not the zoo director, the head keeper, the curator or the zoo vet. It is the zookeeper! The others play a part and are important within the scheme of things but their job is directly influenced by the professionalism of the zoo keeper.
Ignoring this inarguable truth is where so many 'other world' zoos fail. They employ someone who just wants a job or hire a friend of a friend. These are the 'people who work with animals in zoos'. They are not zookeepers. These people dream of becoming taxi drivers or owning a tea shop. They are not zoo keepers! Some can and do become very good and even exceptional at what they do. Most however, are a waste of space and a hindrance to the successful operation of a zoological garden. Professional zookeepers are the key to the whole operation.
Sadly this is often not recognised by some sitting in their ivory zoo towers. Their answer to problems within a zoo is more zoo vets. Seemingly they believe more vets are the way to solve their often sticky situation. The reality is that with professional zookeepers that less vets are needed. With professional zookeepers there may even be no need for the zoo to employ a full time vet at all.
Zoo Keeper Appreciation Week
I would not argue that a good zoo veterinary surgeon is an extremely important essential requirement. What is more is that the good zoo vet recognises the primary importance of the zookeeper. The good zoo vet knows each and every keeper and trainee keeper they deal with by name. The good zoo vet will drink beer, tea and coffee with the zoo keepers. They socialise. There is a two way flow of zoo and animal information between vet and keeper. They learn from each other. The animal care benefits, big time.
There was a time when the zoo directors 'morning walk' was an established part of zoo routine. Sadly this tradition is, with the multitude of issues the zoo director has to deal with is becoming less common. The tragedy is that in some zoos it has never occurred. We now have zoos which are run by 'people who work in zoos' but are not zoo directors and if they are one of these then they will never ever recognise that it is the zookeeper who is the key to the health and well being of the animals and to the success of a zoo.
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