Hoses are a way of life around here. There is what is called the legendary “black hose disease” that affect Keepers who handle the black hoses too much and turn the palms of their hands the color of charcoal. I spent the first 3 days at the Bird House absolutely exhausted when I walked out the door. I wanted to get a taste of what the work was like and so I just kept busy all day doing what I was told and helping out wherever I could. It about killed me. My back hurt and my hands were achey.
My arms were tired from picking up heavy boxes and my legs hurt from walking all over the zoo. Unlike other zoo departments, the Bird House has exhibits located throughout the zoo, and all of the birds must be fed, sometimes twice a day. So these guys are constantly hauling food around.
Working at a zoo isn’t about the animals. It’s about hoses. It’s about chopping food and thawing fish, cleaning food bowls and cleaning exhibits. It’s about attempting to coax a 30 to 35 pound King Penguin to step on a scale:
Here Cody is asking “Naveen” to have a hop up onto the scale. It was a thumbs-up and Cody and Steve got her weighed. She was 13.8 Kg. Which is just over 30 pounds.
It’s keeping records, getting the walk-in freezer fixed, ordering extra herring for the penguins, chasing down runaway crickets, rotating your stock of mealworms, unloading trucks, and keeping track of exhibit temperatures. The polar exhibit water got a little warm, so 2000 pounds of ice was ordered to throw into the water to cool it down. Steve Malowski, the Team Leader ordered up the ice which was delivered to the back loading dock. Steve, Dave, Jenna, the employee visiting from Aquarium of the Pacific, and Cody unloaded the 50 pound bags onto carts, and pushed it to the door of the polar exhibit They carried it up a small flight of stairs and dumped it into the penguin’s pool. 2000 pounds. This is a lot of weight to be moving around in an afternoon.
You are always wet. Always. I kind of got used to it, but you get cold and then you get itchy and your feet start getting wrinkly in your wet boots and when you take off your boots you can’t imagine what they look like. I won’t even discuss the fish smell. But I can show you what my boots looked like after 2 days of work:
My boots are worse now since a snake crapped on my right boot toe. And we won’t even go into visiting the goats at the petting zoo.
These boots were pretty new looking when I put them on Wednesday morning. I hadn’t really worn them much as I don’t have much use for them in Florida. I don’t think my boots will ever be the same. And neither will my feet. They are beginning to look like this inside my boots:
Patricia Sund is a Free-Lance Writer residing in Florida with her three African Greys. She has been published in About.com, Bird Talk Magazine, Birds USA, In Your Flock Magazine, Good Bird Magazine as well as numerous websites and newsletters. She is currently doing research for a book titled "Parrot Nation".