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Thought I’d do something a little different for our June Zoo News. People often ask ‘what is being a zookeeper really like?’ and I figured who better to answer than the keepers themselves.
First up is Craig, he is one of our Section Heads and is here to tell you all about a Day in the Life of a Big Cat Keeper.
‘No two days are ever the same on our big cat section here in Tayto Park but this can be a good thing for both me and the animals! This section features two of the most awe-inspiring and endangered felids, Amur Tigers (Gara and Khan) and our Amur Leopards (Sergei and Igor) but it also includes some other amazing species such as our Mountain Lions (Belle and Cado), Mikey our Serval and our Sulawesi Crested Macaques (Dougie, Satana, Bumi, Masamba, Drusilla, Indah and baby Eka).
I start my day by checking all the animals to make sure they are all healthy and safe, then once everyone is checked I will clean their houses and outside exhibits from any leftover food and the not so glamourous poo! This time of year, the windows are extra fun to clean with all the handprints from sun cream! Some, like our crested macaques, will get their breakfast in the morning whilst others will get their food later in the day. Once all that is taken care of, it’s tea time (for the keepers that is) or in this heat, lots of water and fruit and the occasional ice-cream! Once refreshed I start preparing the food and enrichment that is needed for the day, which means lots of nice veggies for our Macaques and a whole lot of meat for our cats, in fact, some days we will use up to 30kg!! During the summer we have lots of Zoo Talks so I will factor these into my schedule too, they are really important and fun to do as we get to engage with the guests and educate them on all the different species. These Zoo Talks often include feeding the animals so people can see all the creative ways that we try and ensure the animals are encouraged and given the opportunity to express their natural behaviours. Whether it’s our Amur leopards climbing high into the tree with their prey or the macaques foraging for seeds and nuts amongst the bark. My day is finished with lots of paperwork. Every evening, each keeper records what happened that day, maybe there were births, deaths, mating’s, we even record if an animals poo seemed a little different than usual (that’s how well we know our animals. We can tell when their having an off poo day!)
So that’s a little peek into the day of a big cat keeper, next up is one of our Bird of Prey Keepers.
‘Hi my name is Derek and I’m one of the bird of prey handlers here at Tayto Park. In one day we have a lot to do so I’ll try shorten it down and give you an insight into how we work.
8 am - 10.30 am: First off myself and the team will be briefed on what the goal is for the day and what we want to achieve by the end of it. That done I head up to the eagle aviaries and have a walk around to visually check everyone is accounted for and their aviary is as it should be. Then I enter the keeper area where we have our weighing scales and cleaning equipment so one by one I enter each of the aviaries and give it a good clean, while getting a closer look at each individual bird. Then after the cleaning is done I open up the door from their aviary to the indoor room where the birds come to be weighed. This is all voluntary and done on the birds own accord. If a bird decides it doesn’t want to come in for weighing, that’s fine we can try again later. Sure I’m not a morning person myself ha ha . So after all the cleaning and weighing is done we can decide who will fly in the display that day and who will be flying outside of the display for training. Every bird we have will free fly everyday either in display or outside display times.
11am - 1.45pm : After the morning break, the training starts. We set our birds up with telemetry or a GPS system. This is a little tracker that either clips onto a little back pack or on a tail mount and this is just so if the birds decide to go for a long fly we can track them. I use the GPS on our white tail sea eagle, Maximus, and this allows me to see how fast he is flying, what height he is flying at and where exactly he is. Max is still only a juvenile and learning to use the breeze and especially the thermals. These are small pockets of rising warm air which he uses to soar. He recently reached a height of 2640 feet so he’s doing really well!! At 12.30 we have a vulture feed and talk and then after that we set up for our first display at 1 o'clock. This consists of putting telemetry on all the birds that will fly in that display. Each show lasts 30 min. Then when the display is finished we need to take all the telemetry off all the birds that has flown and set up for the 2.30 display then its lunch (my favourite part of the day!)
2.10pm - 5.00pm: When we get back from lunch we already have everything set up for the 2.30 display so we give everything one last check before the display starts. When this display is over we do another half hour of training before we set up for our last display at 4 o'clock. After this display we do our last round where this consists of last feeds, taking all the telemetry off the birds and put the birds back in their aviaries. Then we do our final visual check of the birds, food prep for the next day and a final clean-up after the day! This is just a small insight into a day of a life of a bird of prey keeper.
DON'T FORGET next time you’re in Tayto Park drop in to one of our bird of prey displays at 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm, and see how our birds and their training is coming along. You can also meet Craig and our other big cat keepers every weekend at the Amur leopards at 12.15, Amur tigers at 1.30 and Mountain lions at 3.30pm.