Keeper's diary - February 2009
An important part of looking after animals is maintaining and modifying enclosures to ensure that they remain suitable and interesting for the species which are housed in them.
One of the more unexpected skills I have learned as an animal keeper is a basic knowledge of construction and maintenance, including woodwork, cementing, rope-work and even a bit of plumbing! This has all proved very useful for modifying enclosures.
It is important for the enclosure of an animal to be suitable for the species which lives in it, as well as looking aesthetically pleasing for visitors. However wear and tear to the furniture and equipment in most enclosures happens very quickly as they are used so regularly by the animals, and things often become worn, ripped or broken.
For example, me and fellow keepers Dan and Tony have this month replaced a lot of rope work in a few of our large monkey exhibits as it had all been looking very worn, tired and was beginning to fray.
Instead of just replacing exactly what we had taken down, we have hung all the new ropes from different locations and put up a few different things, such as a swing, which offers the monkeys a new and stimulating environment.
Although most of our older enclosures are still suitable for keeping animals, some are not so pleasing to look at. This was the case with the indoor pygmy hippo pool - until we added a bit of paint, some wooden cladding along the walls and also built a few areas for planting which all helped create a more natural looking home for the hippos, and now it looks great.
From a keeper’s point of view however, construction jobs are much more rewarding when you can see a real benefit to the lives of the animals you are looking after, such as building a new shelter for them to use in bad weather.
I have somehow gained a reputation as one of the keepers on my section that is good at building work, I am not sure how well justified that is though, as not all my ideas have gone to plan!
A recent success however, was rebuilding the hay racks for the camel’s paddock. The old hay racks were destroyed during an accident when the old camel shelter fell down and crushed them. This was caused by Nadia, the older camel leaning on the shelter and scratching her side –she obviously didn’t know her own strength and pushed the whole thing over!
I have used the original design for the new hay racks, but hopefully they will last a bit longer this time. I have spent quite a lot of time reinforcing them and hopefully they are now camel-proof!
More next month