Zookeepers Share The Craziest Thing They've Ever Seen Happen At Work
Okay so normally this is the part of the article where I have some relevant story to tell about what you're about to read. Not this time. I've never been a zookeeper, though I did really want to be when I was younger. The closest I got was working at an exotic animal vet's office - and mostly that just involved a lot of rabbit poop.
Reddit user @lukavwolf asked:
Yeah, these stories are WAY better than any of the ones I have to tell. I mean, do you really want to hear about the time I got felt up by a skunk when you can read stories about people slipping drugs to monkeys by slipping them into a wine cooler? Monkeys drink wine coolers?!?!
Psh, yeah they do... read on, my friends.
My teacher in high school was a zookeeper. He told us a story once about when he was cleaning the penguin enclosure. Apparently male penguins will build up piles of rocks and whoever has the biggest pile is the most wanted penguin for the females to mate with. So one day my teacher was cleaning the enclosure and this one penguin used to always try to bite him and he bit him pretty hard that day so my teacher just kicked his pile down.
He said that everything after that happened in slow motions, he looked at the penguin, the penguin looked at him, all of the other penguins were staring at the rocks on the ground and then all of a sudden they all lunged for the rocks and the original penguin didn't have any more rocks.
Not a "zoo keeper", but was a primary zoologist for an "environmental learning center"
I had some nature items on display on a table while I was holding a barn owl, giving a talk about it. A couple of the objects are fairly valuable in that they are difficult or illegal to acquire; like a gopher turtle shell, drained vulture egg shell, fox skull, etc.. Some kid decides he wants to take some nature home so he slips a porcupine quill in his pocket, pointy end down, with the rest of it tucked under his shirt.
Now, if you don't know anything about porcupine quills you might think of them as just long points. This is not true. At the pointy end of a porcupine quill is a point - but there are also barbs. The barbs hook into the skin and make them difficult and painful to remove. Most animals need to be totally sedated to have it done, it's that painful.
Back to our young and hapless thief. When he goes to sit down, the quill he stole stabs him in the penis through the inside of his pocket. I remember the squealing like it was yesterday.
I volunteered at a petting zoo once, and I will never forget it. This little girl wanted to hold one of the ducklings we had, and we do let guests hold the small animals so long as they're sitting and gentle. So I bring the the duckling and being gentle with it.
Suddenly a little boy (likely her brother) runs up and appears to grab and bite the head off the duckling, and I was completely unable to react (how are you supposed to react to that?!) I was about the faint when he yells, "HA GOT YOU" and pull a glob of feathers covered in what I can assume was ketchup out of his mouth... the duckling was still in the girls arms, and she was laughing. I never volunteered at a petting zoo again.
"We Don't Eat That"
I worked Visitor Education at the New England Aquarium in Boston for a few years, so close enough.
So we had a touch tank called "Edge of the Sea" like most aquariums. It's full of tide pool animals; crustaceans, a few small flounder, and seastars (not starfish, they aren't fish but echinoderms!)
One day, this little kid took a sea star out of the tank, and put it in his pocket. Then he ran away. I was working the exhibit alone. A field trip came right up after the sea star was taken. I quickly grabbed the microphone and told everyone not to touch anything for a moment.
I ran to the next exhibit and greeted the kids mother. I told her what happened and she asked him to give back the animal. Out of nowhere, the kid takes a bite out of the sea star, spits it out and says "yuck" and then whips the rest of the animal against the wall. Mom? She just kind of weakly went "noooooo we don't eat that" to the kid.
I grabbed the body and leg. Sea Stars grow back from both. They survived.
Covered In Animal Blood
One time I was working at a museum with a live animal exhibit and a protester covered herself in animal blood. She tried to run into the building and got clothes-lined by a security guard.
Put The Tortoise Down
Had a guy try to pick up our African Spurred Tortoise (about 100lbs) that we let roam freely to show his kid he could do it, and got pissed when I told him to put the tortoise down.
Oh, and he called back later complaining that picking up the tortoise injured his back.
Valium In A Wine CoolerGiphy
I was a keeper and tour guide at a small zoo in Oklahoma and one day when I was cleaning up the barnyard I looked up and out towards the monkey enclosures and thought..."huh, that looks like a monkey walking along that fence...." and almost immediately realized who it was and what was going on. Got on the radio and alerted the entire place to the fact that one of our more dangerous capuchins was out and wondering the facility.
Moses, as the story goes, was rescued from a travelling circus after he had witnessed his owner being bludgeoned to death. We had to be very, very careful around him. He was violent and aggressive and it was instant chaos. Capuchins may be small but they are absolutely capable of maiming someone.
We escorted all the guests off property and after several hours of him approaching us and looking in the pockets of petrified zookeepers for treats, he was finally captured and put back into his enclosure.
It only took a couple of Valium in a wine cooler to make it happen, but that was by far one of the more frightening experiences I had there.
Used to work at a zoo teaching summer camps. Many of the chimps were rescues from shows and weren't very wild or shy, so would sit close to the edge of the enclosure near visitors. A couple teens were tossing rocks at them, and one chimp scooped one up that landed close by and just whipped it back. Guess what animal has better aim and can throw a hell of a lot harder than a 14 year old? Yep.
Thankfully this was in the early 90's before people sued for everything.
Out Of Funding
Worked at a zoo during one of the government shutdowns. A lady became convinced that we had run out of funding to feed the animals. She bought a bunch of meat from the grocery store and threw it, still wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam, into the lion enclosure. She got arrested and we had to quarantine the lion who ate the meat for a while.
Not really crazy, more amusing. Volunteered at a zoo, preparing the monkeys' and small apes' diets—chopping up mostly fruits, veggies, canned primate diet and insects/mealworms. I was alone in the monkey house one day, chopping away, when I got that feeling that I was being watched. We had a pair of white cheeked gibbons (found in SE Asia), and I looked up to find the female hanging from her branches, with her legs spread in what looked like a cheerleader's split and the male behind her as they mated. He was busy with the task at hand, but she was staring at me intently (probably because I was making her breakfast). She just kept staring without blinking. She didn't even seem to notice when her boyfriend was finished, she just kept staring. I went back to my chopping, and she eventually lost interest. koookoookachoo
I used to work at Sea World at the Sea Lion and Otter show. One of the young Walruses was named Kabuto and he liked to climb over the edge and waddle into the walkway in front of the crowds.
The early morning Flamingo chase was always fun because the Flamingos would always escape their enclosures. JCarnacki
Not a zookeeper, an animal rescuer who used to run a shelter. It was a poorer country and those of us with shelters tended to know/visit each other. Because of the poverty, conditions were bad, and crowding was a real issue. Probably the craziest was also the woman who had been at it longest (which made perfect sense to anyone who understood the conditions). She had over 400 dogs crowded into a space that was about the size of a US suburban back yard. Yes, it was crowded, but every one of those dogs had a name, loved that woman, and, eventually, got rehomed in a richer country through the good offices of another woman who had connections. Katya, I will never forget the amazing job you did, and Christine, you are a truly wonderful woman.
All Hail Katya!
Not a zookeeper, an animal rescuer who used to run a shelter. It was a poorer country and those of us with shelters tended to know/visit each other. Because of the poverty, conditions were bad, and crowding was a real issue. Probably the craziest was also the woman who had been at it longest (which made perfect sense to anyone who understood the conditions). She had over 400 dogs crowded into a space that was about the size of a US suburban back yard. Yes, it was crowded, but every one of those dogs had a name, loved that woman, and, eventually, got re-homed in a richer country through the good offices of another woman who had connections. Katya, I will never forget the amazing job you did, and Christine, you are a truly wonderful woman. BoredBeforeMyTime
Volunteered at a small nature exhibit, showcasing local animals. Mostly reptiles and insects, because they're easiest to house and clean up after. One exhibit had a few rattlesnakes, because they help attract visitors. Was told about how one of the volunteers would give impromptu bare-handed snake handling demonstrations with the rattlesnakes, grabbing one and bringing it out of the cage, even though there are well-posted rules against it. (Staff was in very short supply, so nobody else noticed, and this went on for a couple of weeks.) He thought he knew how to handle the snakes so he wouldn't get bit. Well, you know what happened... Luckily, the snake wasn't going for a kill bite, but just a little "hands off, buster" nip. He was able to get the snake back into the exhibit and the lock on, before having a buddy rush him to the hospital. He was still in great pain for a few days and lost just a couple of tablespoons of arm. twfeline
Little red Riding Hood you are NOT!
I work at an ecology center, so similar to a zoo and I once saw three grown men try to feed the black bears honey (one of them is named Pooh). Now, the bears were clearly hibernating, so I don't know what their goal was. All they did was get honey all over their hands and got kicked out. CStarling4
Went to Costa Rica for an ecology program, was studying sea turtles and marking where they laid their eggs. I spotted a turtle and my group went over to watch and measure and tag her. When we got close we saw that she had a fin growing out of her left back fin. It was really weird. lilchey99
I once volunteered alongside zookeepers at one of the best rated zoos in the U.S. My favorite part was that there was a kangaroo escape plan hanging up behind part of the children's zoo. There was a HUGE net and some other supplies along with detailed instructions. Apparently the kangaroos had escaped at one point and getting them back was complete hell. INeverKnowTheLyrics
Not quite a zookeeper, but I train animals at an educational facility. The craziest thing I see on the regular is this really interesting phenomenon where completely literate adults suddenly forget how to read. The sign says "please stay on the path?" Surely that doesn't apply to me. The sign says "please do not put hands inside the enclosures or harass the ambassadors?" Better stick my hand in, yell, and wave! Immediately followed by "why does that bird look so scared?" Ummm, it's because you're harassing her. /rant. tendencytodream
Please Don't Shoot!
Not a zookeeper but used to work with primates. Our alpha male primates got very attached to their female handlers/caretakers. Onsite veterinarian didn't believe me when I said that they started to furiously masturbate any time female handlers walked into their habitat.
When I finally got him to come observe morning feedings, he referred to it as "a shooting gallery." retroverted_uterus
Minimum wage is often paid by some of the most physically and emotionally intensive work—service industry jobs. Having to work in a hot kitchen all day or deal with irate customers while being paid less than you need to survive is not exactly the best situation to be in.