Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
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.
Read More about Zoos
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 08, 2009:
Thanks Jimmy. I agree with you. I have worked in zoos as keeper, head keeper, curator and general manager but in all positions am happiest with the title 'zoo keeper' regardless of the responsibilities bestowed upon me. The very best zoo directors are zoo keepers too.
One day I may get to Uganda. Perhaps not in this lifetime though but I will make it a point in the next.
jimmy Awany on December 08, 2009:
My Name Jimmy and i work at the uganda wildlife education centre as a zookeeper and i have worked here for over 7 years now,and my real life work experinces rotates around white rhinos,african phythons,patas monkeys,vervets,chimps,baboons,antelopes and ocessionally carnivores and my only wish is that
If only could this piece of information trickle down and becomes A miracle to many zoos who have failed by choice to realize that Zookeepers are the heart, lung and oxygen of many world zoos.Then i could say with Honors that animals in zoos have been liberated from all sorts of opperssion.in most cases it is us keepers who know what our animals want or feeling and they directly tell us but often we have also fail, but not because we want it but because the rest of other workers not understand our rare and unique reasoning of all the time putting our animals on top of our priorities and life.
Fortunately, where I work as a zookeeper our role is being respected and taken seriously on a professionals ground and as zookeeper I must also advice that we must not ignore other advice on grounds that we “Know” this might makes us fail. Thumps up for all the zookeepers in the world and together we can makes a difference in our animals because it is we who spent most time with them and believe them in any situation. They know us and love us they way we do to them.
Hey! Did you also know that zookeepers are the best fathers and mothers the world has ever got?
Come visit the pearl of Africa Uganda ,it is my country the country gifted by nature
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 29, 2009:
An undeniable truth Anna but there always a few gems among the workers. I had a 'worker' once who wanted more than anything to be a taxi driver. Amongst his responsibilities was to care for a herd of around sixty seemingly identical gazelle. None were tagged but he could instantly tell me the lineage of each animal pointing out mother, grandmother and sisters. Even saying how many brothers even though they were held elsewhere. Good man.
Anna on November 29, 2009:
This is exactly the problem I am dealing with at the moment - people who work with animals in zoos (workers), we just can't get zoo keepers here.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 28, 2009:
i scribble - thank you. Maybe one day.
i scribble on November 28, 2009:
An informative and worthwhile hub. I would love to see human interest hubs from you about your experiences raising a chimp at home and your relationships with chimps and other animals you bonded with.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 24, 2009:
Thanks Dohn - Costs are only part of the problem. Only when zookeeping is recognised as a posession worldwide will the animals get the care they so justly deserve.
dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on November 24, 2009:
In the world of downsizing and cost-cutting, I bet Zookeepers were compromised in order to save money and boost profits. Apparently, Zoos are not impervious to economic change. It's a shame that this is so, Peter. I hope that changes are made to see to it that the best persons for the job are hired for the role of Zookeeper once again. Thanks for sharing this.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 24, 2009:
I started as a keeper and then worked as head keeper, assistant curator and curator. Roles overlap along with titles in the zoo world.
I wish your daughter the very best of luck. The exotic animal side of the vets work is quite difficult to break into.
4hourmike from Thailand on November 24, 2009:
Well, thanks for another insightful Hub, Peter. I guess I never really thought about the day-to-day operations of a zoo before. What role did you play in the scheme of things back in your previous life? I've got a daughter who is studying to become a vet. She wants to come to here to Thailand to work with the elephants up in Lampang.