Hidden Agenda

Not all God’s creatures were put here to be your pet, you know. I’ve had to tell myself that more than once lately. I admit it. I’ve been attracted to the idea of being a docent at the zoo because I’ve been thinking of it as an avenue to get closer to the animals. I figured if I signed up I might get behind the scenes and lay my hands on some furry critters. Today I went for my first day of training and I now stand corrected on the second part of that. A docent does get behind the scenes and that, in and of itself, is incredibly exciting. However, nobody is doing much in the way of petting and snuggling furry animals over there. For example: somebody (okay, me) asked the head primate keeper about the nature of their interactions with the chimpanzees and I was surprised to hear that there is very very little. Gone are the days of diapering up those little guys and marching them around zoos for the entertainment of the visitors. He explained that they virtually never hold or carry these animals. The chimps are trained to come to the fence of their enclosure, reach through and touch a colored geometric "target" that is uniquely their signal. They will then, on sign language command, perform various behaviors that allow the keepers to give them a visual check-up, as it were. They know the sign to turn their right ear to the keeper, then the left, to display their hands, their feet, open their mouths, bring their chest to the fence and when the keeper makes a circular motion in the air they turn around and lean their backs against it (and here they get the briefest of back scratches). This training is done to monitor their health and well-being in a low key and unobtrusive way. Other than that they are left alone to be what they are: chimpanzees living in a group. They have a spit-spot spacious indoor/outdoor enclosure with the freedom to go where they please and do as they please. Because the zoo has a controlled population group, males get vasectomies but they are otherwise left intact to live out their love lives. Every two years they are, all on a day, anesthetized for intensive physicals, including cardiograms and dental work and "the sorts of tests you want to sleep through, too."

The clear message is that the zoo is about preservation, conservation and education. The zoo houses over 1200 animals and more than 230 species. In order to be a docent I have to learn about all those animals, their diets and care, every aspect of how they live in the wild and in captivity, who is endangered and current guidelines for protection. I have to learn the history of the zoo, who made what statue where, the location and directions to every animal and how to use a walkie-talkie. I need to master interpretative tour guiding, how to deal diplomatically with the public and the polite wrangling of small out of control children (shhh. use your indoor voice please.) I need to know which way to all the bathrooms. There is animal handling and demonstration for educational purposes several times each day, mostly small mammals and reptiles (Tilly, the turtle and Bailey, the blue-tongued skink for example) and you’re expected to do this with comfort and ease.

I came home from this first day really charged up and excited. I’m going to love this. I’m looking forward to writing more about it here on a regular basis, too. There are some very cool perks, including opportunities to attend lectures and educational seminars. Jane Goodall is coming in late March for this conference.

I need to end this for tonight because tomorrow I head down to Florida; the bungalow is nearing completion and I will be picking out granite counters now that the tile and cabinets are set. It’s another quick two day turn around but I’ll be able to visit with the Snarl since I’ll stay at the same hotel where she works part time as concierge. The next time I go will be when we unpack and reorganize the contents of the house and begin to really enjoy that spankin’ new porch. I’ll post some pictures of the porch and kitchen over the next couple days.

Not all God’s creatures were put here to be your pet, you know.
Then why is this little Florida lizard coming around every day to the bungalow? Every single day at 12 o’clock sharp he scoots up the fence and bounces up and down for attention. It’s because he is so very fond of Dominoes with double cheese…Liz1

14 responses to “Hidden Agenda

  1. And a bet that Dominoes pizza with cheese is as good for him as it is for us…. Right?!
    Have you given any thought to your “Counseling by E-mail” career? You think I am being silly…. but I am serious.
    Have a good trip.

  2. How absolutely wonderful. And I agree with srp about the whole email counseling thing. I’m just saying. And speaking of animals not being put here to be our pets, my daughter had her first experience in her very own apartment (old house) finding out that she had a mouse this evening while on the phone with me. There was a moment of utter shock as she saw out of the corner of her eye said mouse scurry across the living room floor from under the sofa to under the tv cart. And then there was much excited discussion about what on earth she was going to do about it. And before we were off the phone, she had determined that his name, of all things, was Chester. *sigh* Dr. Doolittle indeed.

    Have a great trip to Florida. Wish I could join you. See you soon! Smooches!

  3. Vicki's sister, Betsy

    I attended a wonderful talk by Jane Goodall when I was at Cornell, and felt honored to speak briefly with her afterward. She is a delight and a wake-up call. Good luck with docent-ing; it sounds wonderful.


  4. Zoo docent-ing sounds just perfect for you, Vicki. I have a lovely blog friend named Leah who lives in Chicago and is the proud new mom of a 2-month old baby girl. You will have to let me know when you have a schedule at the zoo so I can make sure that Leah takes little Dorrie for her first zoo trip when you are there 🙂

  5. That would be a super cool place to work.

  6. Interesting how they’ve moved to less invasive methods of exam for the chimps. 🙂

  7. Despite mixed feelings about zoos in general, I think it is a very cool thing that you do. Spending time in the care, conservation, and preservation of animals is noble in every way. All the critters are lucky to have your presence. I once had an opportunity, when I was a college student, to make a video documentary of a mother and infant gibbons at the Denver Zoo. The behind-the-scenes stuff is so interesting, and I did get to touch the hand of the mother gibbon. I’ll never forget the feel of her touch back.

  8. I’ve always thought that I’d be a zoo docent one day. In fact, I was going for training at our Nature Center when I found out I was preggers for the first time. Can’t be around animal feces when you’re preggers.

    Fun!!! Can’t wait to hear more about this new Vicki adventure.

  9. I think you’ll make a very decent docent.
    Enjoy your FL visit! Hope your neighbor still has that wireless connection going 😉

  10. Now you KNOW how I feel about the email counseling! It’s an opportunity made in Heaven for you, I think. (You’re an angel anyway)

    My son’s mother-in-law worked as a docent at our zoo and loved it. She got to take care of some very small newborn monkeys.

    About the chimps: I saw a program on TV tonight showing a man who was mauled by 2 chimps. He lost half his face, parts of hands and toes. Maybe that is why they don’t allow much human contact anymore.

  11. I love zoos, and the one we went to in Colorado Springs was wonderful. The docents were very helpful, and interesting. I know you will be the same!

  12. Eureka! How much more fitting a career could a computer savvy therapist find? I say GO FOR IT. I giggled over your peace lily story because I had the same situation, in reverse. I had one that my co-workers gave me when my grandmother died and it got so big I started dividing it every year until I had about twenty pots of it! Lots of grandma karma around 🙂

  13. Margaret… I LOVED the zoo in Colorado Springs! It was the one zoo I could stomach for years. Lovely place.

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