Tuesday, March 22, 2011

keeper for a day (or, how clara became queen of the elephants)

 On Saturday March 19th I donned coveralls and partook of the Keeper for a Day program at the Toronto Zoo. It was amazing. I highly recommend it to everyone. I hope to do it again at other sections of the zoo. This was a birthday present from Jeremy; I would be assisting the elephant keepers for the day. Oh Em Gee. I met and shoveled the poop of Thika, Oringa and Toka.

Toka is the most submissive, she stores her hay between her trunk and tusk so the other girls don[t steal it (squee). Oringa is the anti-macgyver, she has disassembled pretty much everything that she's ever come into contact with. Thika is the alpha, and she reminds me of Tonks. She will steal the other elephant's toys and food and bully them. And when you walk by her she will put her trunk out and beg for food.

I also got to get a sneak peek of the penguins, which won't be on display for a couple more months. I met Perky and Petal, two river hippo sisters. They were hilarious. They came over for snacks and pets, when we walked away they made whiny noises for more attentions. Too cute.

Jeremy met me for lunch and afterwards the keepers were kind enough to give Jeremy a tour too. He got to see the indoor facilities (which were way bigger than I realized) and go around back to see the elephants, and the hippos and penguins.

The program is run by the keepers themselves; they are a part of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. The funds are used for teaching and training of it's members as well as various conservation efforts. Recently they sent a member to Madagascar for research and purchased GPS units for the anti-poaching patrols in Africa. Unlike some people I could mention (cough, PETA) they talk the talk and walk the walk.

The training they do is very cool; I'm going to try some of the ideas on Tonks. For example they go through the motions of taking blood or giving an injection every week, so that they don't automatically associate the actions with a yucky experience. Plus they get jellybeans whether it's a real needle or not. I think I'll try that with cleaning Tonks' ears. Right now she sees me get cotton balls and runs. I'll do it once a week and sometimes just wipe her ear with cotton without the cleaning goo, and give her a treat. Keep her on her toes. But I digress.

 I was very impressed at how knowledgeable, friendly and passionate about animal conservation everyone was. I sincerely hope they get their wish and the zoo decides to fund a new habitat and facilities for the elephants. While they do actually like the snow (Oringa makes snow elephants), their thin ears can suffer when it is below zero so they stay indoors. I don't want Toronto to lose it's elephants, they are in capable, caring hands and just need new facilities. Each kid who sits for a keeper talk and learns about their funny personalities and the dangers they are facing against poachers is one more person who can make a difference. Wow, how did I end up on this soapbox? I just LOVE THEM so much. Anyhoo enjoy the pics and videos.

My coat still smells like poo. I regret nothing!

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