Keepers Diary - December 2005
I am Oliver Duprey, a trainee keeper on the Mammals South section, a large and diverse department of the zoo that includes the big cats and bears, the primates and the Casson pavilion that houses bearded pigs, camels and pygmy hippos.
I graduated in zoology last year and following a period as a volunteer I was taken on as a keeper at London Zoo. I hope this diary will offer an insight into the life of a zoo keeper and explain the varied roles that this job entails.
Keepers have daily routines to follow, such as feeding their charges and cleaning the animal and public show areas, plus we have weekly routines, which for me include such jobs as cleaning the hippo pool and changing their beds fully.
But there are also much rarer events, one of which was carried out this week – the great pygmy hippo migration.
Although this migration is only to a neighbouring building, for the animals it is a great upheaval, especially as this pair are a little on the lazy side, to put it politely!
As the temperature drops each winter the hippos are moved to the old elephant house - which now houses lots of small mammals - until the spring and milder weather returns.
Their summer area is much larger and features a huge pool, but as the weather gets colder they no longer use the pool and this can cause their skin to dry out and crack. Hippos normally exude a personal ‘moisturiser’ that keeps their skin nourished and smooth, but their skin needs to be wet for this to be effective and if they are not bathing this can cause problems.
So to encourage them to take the water, their winter enclosure has the benefit of lovely, warm, bath-like pools which the hippos love relaxing in all day.
The hippos are quite used to their move and don’t need to be sedated, we just open the gates and with a little fencing to guide them, they walk right over, no problems!
Also this week, the pigs, anoas and camels have been given extra bedding to help cope with the sudden drop in temperature. Meanwhile, the pigs are also benefiting from the autumn leaves which the gardeners have raked up. The leaves provide brilliant cover in which the pigs can forage for food and encourage natural behaviours by using those specially adapted snouts.
More news next month...