Zookeeper and Animal Trainer

Zookeeper and Animal Trainer

LisaAnnOKane

Tampa, FL

Female, 32

During my zookeeping and environmental education career, I have interacted and worked with a variety of animals, including brown bears, wolverines, red foxes, moose, camels, mountain goats, dolphins, sea lions, raccoons, porcupines, snakes, raptors and ravens. I am also a young adult author, and my debut novel ESSENCE was released in June 2014 by Strange Chemistry Books. Ask me anything!

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Last Answer on September 18, 2015

Best Rated

How do you approach, handle and restrain an animal that has escaped from a zoo?

Asked by Chelsea about 11 years ago

Great question! It absolutely depends on the individual animal, and the answers can vary significantly. A domestic animal like a goat or sheep may simply be corralled back where it belongs, and a net may be adequate for a small animal like a raccoon or a crow, but a tiger will obviously require much more significant force.

In all cases, zoos start early by categorizing each animal by "threat level" and designing emergency plans to deal with a possible escape. Zookeepers memorize these plans, and animals are also trained to view their crates as "safe places." (This works wonders when a nervous animal suddenly finds itself out of the safety and comfort of its enclosure.) 

When an animal escapes, zookeepers generally start by corralling it and attempting to entice it back into its enclosure using positive reinforcement and the procurement of its crate. If this doesn't work, nets or lassos may be used. If these don't work, tranquilizer guns are often used.

Last but not least, zoos may use deadly force, but this is obviously the VERY last option, and it is only employed if the animal becomes an imminent threat to someone's life.

Have you ever considered becoming a TV personality, perhaps like those who bring interesting animals on to talk shows? You seem like you'd be a natural!

Asked by Marques over 11 years ago

Thanks so much, Marques! Public appearances were actually a big part of my job in Alaska. I trained the pint-sized outreach animals--red foxes, great horned owls, porcupines, red-tailed hawks, baby deer, etc.--and I took them to schools and visitor centers and special events. I would love to get back into those types of outreaches some day. If you know anyone who would like to hire me as a TV personality, you just let me know! ;)

Do any animals other than humans have sex for non-reproductive reasons? (Like: just for fun:)?

Asked by babyfac3 over 11 years ago

Hahaha, absolutely! Many, many species of animals enjoy a gratuitous romp in the hay. As a matter of fact, bonobos (chimp-like primates) revolve almost their entire social structure around sex. They use intercourse (in various, creative forms) to greet each other, to solve disputes, and to make up after fights. They even use sex as currency when bartering for food! In my personal experience, I have worked at facilities that house dolphins, and... man! The things I have seen, particularly with males (and females, and other males, and cones, and toys, and pretty much any other inanimate thing)... Let's just say the Spice Network could take some tips from those guys... ;)

What are the biggest and smallest animals you have handled? Pound for pound which was the most trouble/time consuming?

Asked by MrDuck almost 12 years ago

I love this question! The biggest animal I have worked with is a 1,600 pound, seven-foot tall male Bactrian camel named Knobby. The smallest is probably a 110 gram, nine-inch tall male boreal owl named Mouse. Pound for pound, the camel definitely wins. However, I have worked with many high-maintenance little guys, including a snowy owl named Freya, a raccoon named Max and a muskrat named Critter. Although they were all fairly small, they still required a LOT of my mental energy!

What are the major health issues associated with animals in captivity. Do zoos and sanctuaries have any health management plans in place for specific species?

Asked by CAT almost 11 years ago

Hi again, CAT. Because zoo environments are so different from wild environments--plentiful access to food, absence of predators, little to no competition for mates, etc.--zookeepers members must work very hard to ensure the ongoing physical and mental health of their animals. In particular, zookeepers want to maintain fitness and decrease the likelihood of unwanted behaviors like pacing, rocking, increased aggression, altered time management, increased frustration and increased fearful behavior.

Environmental enrichment plans are a very important component of animal health management plans, and these plans definitely vary from species to species--depending on things like natural history, physiology, etc.

When zoo animals get really old and sick, are they usually put down or allowed to pass away "naturally"?

Asked by Barry212 almost 12 years ago

It really depends on the situation. The animal's best interests always must come first, so staff veterinarians closely monitor aging and / or ailing animals. If it is possible to allow the animal to live out its life, that is obviously the ideal choice. Sometimes though, euthanasia becomes the only humane choice--much like with aging or ailing cats and dogs. Saying goodbye to an animal is heartbreaking, and I can't tell you how many tears I have cried through the years. But an animal's welfare comes before anything else, so sometimes a hard decision must be made.

What is the required timescale for dealing with an escape of an animal? Including an estimate of timings in dealing with the situation and contacting those concerned.

Asked by Chelsea about 11 years ago

This is a very difficult question to answer, as the rule of thumb is simply to get the situation under control as quickly as possible while also ensuring the safety of everyone involved. I have been part of escapes that have taken only moments to contain, and I have also had to spend an hour or more corraling an animal down from a tree, out from under a barn, etc.