Many small children want to have a zoo at some point or other. I was no different–My mind overflowed with plans about the zoo I would have when I grew up. Most small children, though, grow out of the zoo phase when they realize they would have to start shoveling manure. My overenthusiastic optimism would not be daunted, however, as three years ago, I started volunteering at the Oglebay Good Zoo in Wheeling, WV.
When asked what I think of working at a zoo, I usually answer: I used to think working at a zoo would be the coolest job in the world. I still think that only the coolest job in the world isn’t quite as glamorous as I thought. Floors have to be swept, dishes have to be washed, and new volunteers do not get to play with the meerkats on their first day. But (in my opinion anyway), all this is atoned for by exercising opossums, ferrets, armadillos, and the occasional skunk; brushing the llama and the goats; and being around animals 100% of the time I’m there.
When working at the zoo, I usually help the keepers with their jobs. This most often includes making animal food and mucking out stalls. It also means keeping the guest areas fit to be seen–harder than you’d think! Picture it: the barn, during fall/winter season when leaves are constantly blowing in, or inside where there is a “pretend to be a vet” zone with stuffed animals and myriads of little kids! Sometimes I even stand in front of cages and tell people about the animals–what we call “interpreting”–but the only place I really like to “interpret” is the lorikeet aviary, where the zoo visitors can come in and feed and hold the birds.
Another thing I always tell people about the zoo: there is no such thing as a normal day at the zoo. Every day the animals are up to something different. There used to be a miniature donkey (Sadly, he isn’t there anymore. He was transferred to another facility.) who thought it was the most interesting thing in the world when someone cleaned his pen. So interesting, he had to must stand on the shovel when it was set down–the same shovel I was trying to clean with. That just made the job difficult! Sometimes, even the most unlikely animals are up to tricks. The zoo I work at has an African spurred tortoise (a large variety of tortoise) which people can feed and pet. Feeding the tortoise requires supervision, but standing in a tortoise cage can be very boring on long summer afternoon when anyone with sense is home and out of the heat. So, after a few circuits pacing around his cage, I discovered that whichever way I went, the tortoise would also pace that way. I reversed direction several times, just to be sure, and sure enough, the tortoise realized what I had done, so he turned around and walked that way too.
But, I haven’t yet told the most absurd thing that ever happened to me at the zoo (that was a product of animal whims and not of my making mistakes). In three years of volunteering, I have helped with an education program once. The zoo educator and I picked out some animals at the barn to show and drove them in the golf cart to the classroom at the main building. As we were unloading, the educator discovered that the opossum had made a mess in her crate, and left me in charge of her while he cleaned the crate. I love the opossum. She’s one of my favorite animals at the zoo. She was hand raised, so she’s very friendly. As soon as he was out of the room, I pulled the opossum into my lap to cuddle her. She decided she wanted to hang off the front of my shirt which, I had no problem with. When she poked her nose over my shoulder and investigated my hair, I still thought it was alright. When she crawled over my shoulder onto my back, I started to think the whole situation was ridiculous, but I bent over and curled up on the floor (so she wouldn’t fall off) anyway. But then, she made herself comfortable and settled down–and I was stuck on the floor of the classroom with an opossum half asleep on my back! This happened before the guests arrived, so no one caught me like that, but that also meant I had to sit under the opossum, on the cold, hard floor, until the educator got back, snorted with laughter, and removed the opossum.
In spite of its craziness, I love my zoo job. Seeing the different shapes life can take reminds me how amazing God’s creation is. For anyone who’s not afraid of hard work and likes tasks that are anything but ordinary, I recommend work at a zoo.
About the Author:
Name: Heather Willis
How long have you been with TPS?
What classes are you taking with TPS this year?
AP Biology and AP World Literature
What are a few of your hobbies?
Aside from working at the zoo and writing, I enjoy reading books, riding bikes, and doing crafts, specifically origami and 3D beading.