Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Day in the Life

Khera loving on her firehose ball!
Often times, when someone hears where we work, the first response is "that's so cool!" They're right! It really is. However, it's the next common response that misses the mark a bit. We always hear comments like "I can't believe you get to play with tigers all day!" or "I'm so jealous you get to hang out with those animals all day!" It is common misconceptions such as these that motived us to let you know exactly what a day in the life of an animal caretaker is like, specifically in a setting like IEAS.

A typical day for an animal caretaker starts with diet preparation for the animals under their watch. At IEAS, this begins for staff and interns at approximately 6 AM. With animals such as the big cats living at the Sanctuary, it is imperative (particularly in the hot summers) that feeding takes place at first light. It is during this initial morning feeding that the animals are visually checked for any physical or health concerns. Most often, this is also the time when the animals' habitats and houses are cleaned, checked, sanitized, and "enriched" with behavioral enrichment of various types. This cleaning is an absolutely essential part of an animal caretaker's day, as it is up to us to ensure the health and safety of each resident. Properly disposing of feces, sanitizing an animal's environment, and preventing any safety hazards can be messy, difficult, and (of course) smelly, but as animal caretakers, we can't be afraid to get dirty!

Definitely a dirty job! The interns after a day of cementing!
Once each caretaker's section is cleaned and each animal is happy, safe, and fed, the projects begin! Depending on the size of the sanctuary, zoo, or other facility, these projects can range from paperwork, making enrichment items, landscaping, painting, fundraising, habitat maintenance, training, mowing, construction, cleaning, and SO much more! You may notice that many of these activities do not (directly) involve animals. This is because in order to help the animals, we must sometimes recognize that our actions may need to be indirectly beneficial. This fact, unfortunately, is what many people (even some hoping to work in this field) do not realize. Keeping a facility like the Sanctuary running as a "well-oiled machine" takes a considerable number of man hours spent working around the animals instead of with them.

Willie have a blast splashing in his pool!
Needless to say, we have busy days! If we were to neglect all of these projects that weren't the "fun" parts of our job, the safety, comfort, and well-being of the animals would undoubtedly be in jeopardy. Additionally, when we are able to see how the hard work and effort positively affects the animals, the necessity and benefit of it all is brought to light. Watching a grizzly bear splash and play in a pool you just repaired or seeing a tiger peacefully and contentedly lounging on a perch you helped build make everything worth it! Likewise, we can never get enough of watching the eyes of tour-goers light up as they experience how awe-inspiring it can be to see the animals who live at IEAS. Realizing that their visit may be less pleasant, or even impossible, without the groundskeeping and landscaping that we tirelessly perform makes us happy to do it all again! Here at the Sanctuary, we do spend time with the animals who are part of our family, specifically as part of our Emotional Enrichment Program, and it is those moments that help us realize how special the bonds between the two-legged and four-legged friends can be.

A keeper spending time with Nala, a lioness!
Being an animal caretaker can be so much more than what you may think. An animal caretaker can be a contractor, a gardener, a plumber, a construction worker, a painter, a tour giver, and so much more - and all of it is rain or shine! We wouldn't trade it for the world!

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