Wildlife Wednesday: Lisa's Dream Animals




Thank you for tuning in to my weekly Wildlife Wednesday series! I post nature-related articles the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, and I answer "Ask a Zookeeper" questions the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

Today's question comes from the amazing (and amazingly busy) Alex J. Cavanaugh, who somehow manages to balance writing (two published novels to date!), blogging and regularly commenting on what must be hundreds of lucky blogger's websites. 

Somehow I ended up becoming one of those lucky bloggers, and Alex's question today is:

"What are your favorite and least favorite animals to deal with?"

The funny thing about this question is the fact that if you asked 100 different zookeepers and animal professionals, you'd likely get 100 different answers. Part of the fun of becoming a zookeeper or animal trainer is getting to figure out which animals are your most and least favorite to work with, and your answers are often surprising. (For example, you may turn out to hate working with an animal you've long considered your "favorite.)

When I first started working as a zookeeper at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, I was itching to find out which animals were my favorites to work with. Because, you see, among zookeepers, there's this crazy unspoken hierarchy. You have your marine mammal people, and you have your primate people. You have your big cat people, your elephant people, your bear people, your canine people, your hoofstock people, your bird people, your reptile people... The list goes on and on. 

There are funny (and usually inaccurate!) stereotypes associated with each type of keeper. Certain types of keepers are considered extremely vain, certain types are considered rather bizarre, and certain types are considered adrenaline junkies. 

I had no idea which type of keeper I'd be, but I was certain I'd fall in love with some really cool type of animal, like a polar bear or a snow leopard. Imagine my surprise, then, when I quickly realized my favorite animal in the world was this guy:

Photo Courtesy of Me
That's right. I fell in love with a camel. A Bactrian camel, to be exact, a young bull named Knobby who changed my life in so many ways that I can't even begin to explain it.

Knobby was... dorky. And awkward. He often farted when he sat down, and he slipped a lot when he ran. His double humps wiggled when he jumped, he was terrified of wind, and his favorite pastime was smelling his own pee and then staring proudly at the sky like, "Yes. I did that."

When my husband and I left Alaska in 2010, I truly felt like I was leaving my child behind. And to this day, I still tear up when I think about the afternoon I finally had to say goodbye to him. I love that big klutz more than words can describe.

Knobby taught me lots of things, one of which was the fact that I'm not a huge fan of working with big, scary carnivores. Don't get me wrong, camels can be extremely dangerous--a little known fact--and I had to treat Knobby with an incredible amount of respect. He weighed close to 1,500 pounds when I left, and I always had to keep that in mind. I often had to cut training sessions short when I felt like he was getting a little too excited, because he could have crushed and trampled me in a second.

But the point is, Knobby didn't want to EAT me, and I was a big fan of that. I was also a big fan of the fact that Bactrian camels are domesticated, which means the thought of hanging around with a human all day isn't the strangest idea in the world to them.

Knobby also taught me that I like awkward animals. (Maybe I see a little bit of myself in them? ;)) This led me to enjoy working with many other awkward animals, and now my list of dream animals I'd LOVE to work with (but haven't) includes:

ANTEATERS
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
SLOTHS
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
KINKAJOUS
(Photo Courtesy of Animal Kingdom Pet Hospital)
HEDGEHOGS
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
What can I say? Perhaps I am a little dorky. (Ya think??) And I'm definitely a bit of a chicken, because on the other end of the spectrum, you couldn't pay me enough to work with any of the following animals: 

(Disclaimer: Many, many, many zookeepers would argue that these are the very best animals to work with. Those zookeepers just happen to be tougher than me.)
MANDRILS... Way too smart, and way too strong
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
GORILLAS... Ditto
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
CHIMPANZEES... Ditto
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
ALLIGATORS... Left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
SALTWATER CROCODILES... Even scarier left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
RETICULATED PYTHONS... Left-over dinosaurs with no legs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
KOMODO DRAGONS... Left-over dinosaurs with crazy mouths
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
So, there you have it! Lesson learned: Lisa LOVES dorky, approachable animals. ;)  Thanks so much for tuning in, and make sure to join me next Wednesday for an awesome, nature-related article. Have a wonderful week!