Zoo keeper

By MARK STORY

What do you do?

I care for animals in the exotic bird section. In the six main enclosures we have a variety of Australian birds, like cockatoos, and others like the blue and gold macaws. I'm also responsible for the wallaby paddocks where we also keep mara (a South American rodent), bats and flying foxes.

I spend around five hours a day with the animals. My daily routine ranges from preparing food and making up diets through to cleaning, maintaining, and repairing cages.

I'm also involved in one-off projects, conducting the occasional tours or helping out in other sections of the zoo.

Why did you choose this line of work?

It was my uncle and auntie who worked at Orana Park and Peacock Springs in Christchurch who spurred my interest in dealing with animals. I knew I wanted to be a zookeeper from the age of 5 and started working at Peacock Springs when I was 16.

What skills do you need to become a zookeeper?

With around 18 students graduating from the Unitec National Certificate this year, the course (Captive Wild Animal) is becoming a minimum qualification.

I hadn't finished this course when I joined Auckland Zoo, but I did have around six years' experience working with exotic birds at Peacock Springs and had also completed a one-year vet nurses' course. I've since finished the National Captive Wild Animal certificate. Above all, zookeepers must have a love of animals, and not be afraid of hard and often messy work.

Best part of the job?

Flying the blue and gold macaws outside the cage during the summer is always a buzz. Special one-off projects, like helping to hand-raise animals from incubation is always exciting. During my three seasons at Auckland Zoo, I've helped to hand-raise red tail cockatoos, a siamang (primate) and a brolga (a large Australian crane).

Most challenging/difficult part of the job?

A few weeks ago I was charged with spending an hour a day helping to train an orang-utan. It was a fascinating insight into primates and their antics.

Any interesting one-off projects?

When the zoo received two lion cubs I was responsible for donning quarantine gear and cleaning and feeding them each day.

What sort of training do you get?

Zookeepers can progress along a clearly defined career ladder (up to senior keeper level three) as they gain key skills. For example, they get PC training so they can use Arks - software that allows zoos across the world to, among other things, access each other's special reports on injuries and breeding behaviour.

Other competencies include giving tours or writing articles on projects we've worked on. For example, I wrote a paper on incubating a Brolga egg and it's been published (via Arks) in New Zealand, Australia and Britain.

My Job

Name: Chantal Winton

Job title: Keeper, level one

Working hours: 8am-4.30pm, rosters - two days off, seven days on

Employer: Auckland City (Auckland Zoo)

Age: 25

Pay: $25,626-$40,393

Qualifications needed: One year captive wild animal course (Unitec), if you have no previous zoo-keeping experience. Students must be 17 or older and have practical work experience.

Career prospects: Work within other sections of the zoo or other zoos locally and overseas as skill and experience develop. Senior keepers can aspire to the zoo's top job as curator. Other avenues for zookeepers include theme parks (i.e. Seaworld), working with the dog section at MAF or with DoC on wildlife preservation programmes.

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