BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – When it comes to the profession of “zookeeper,” you’re probably thinking, “what a cool job. Zookeepers just get to spend all day playing with animals.”
No, no! After spending some time with two zookeepers at the Brevard Zoo, News 6 Insider Guide Crystal Moyer found out it is a very physically demanding job that takes a lot of passion and research.
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“The heat is definitely a factor, and we feel it. When it rains, we’re still here. We’re working in the rain, puddles and all. It’s a lot of physical labor, but it’s worth it,” rainforest keeper Michele Quinn said.
Day and night, through all of the elements, zookeepers at the Brevard Zoo are on the job.
“Cleaning includes picking up feces and extra food, scrubbing windows making sure everything is clean,” Quinn said.
Quinn helps care for the 11 spider monkeys in the rainforest habitat. After cleaning the enclosures in the morning, she shifts the monkeys using the tunnel systems above the enclosure and adds enrichment, which may include toys, obstacles and scents across the habitat to encourage natural behavior.
“Today I put out a lot of hanging objects so they would climb around,” Quinn said. “Jay’s hanging from his tail, that’s something I’m trying to encourage.”
Across the zoo, keeper Marc Franzen works with the Florida black bears.
Both of the bears in the exhibit were rescued from their unsafe environments and behavior.
“One of the most important parts of my job is to learn how to speak black bear. That involves a lot of behavioral observations,” Franzen said.
Observations that led to some changes in their environment at the zoo.
“I watched our bears try to dig out a space for a den but wasn’t the safest spot,” Franzen said.
Last year, Franzen and a team of keepers, landscapers and engineers constructed bear dens. If you visited the Brevard Zoo between late January and mid-March, you may not have seen any action in the bear habitat.
“That’s because they were doing what bears should do, they were sleeping in their den. It was a great experience for us to just let bears be bears,” Franzen said.
Many of the animals at the Brevard Zoo have been rescued or don’t have a good chance of survival in the wild.
“We do have an attachment with these animals, we do spend a majority of our weeks with them,” Quinn said.
“They do have a large part of my heart and I take pride in caring for them,” Franzen said.
Franzen and Quinn said they hope the zoo will help people gain more interest in preserving wildlife.
“We want everyone to understand what’s happening to animals not in zoos, so we can make an effort to help them and ultimately, not have to have zoos. We really want those wild populations of animals to thrive,” Franzen said.
The next time you go to the zoo don’t be afraid to talk to the zookeepers and staff and ask questions.
They want visitors to learn more about the animals and their conservation projects.
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