A wild career
By Grace Ramey, Watertown Public Opinion
For five Watertown residents, caring for jaguars, river otters and alligators is a normal day at work.
Each day, zookeepers John Gilman, Jen Giessinger, Bill Gallagher, Michelle Miller and Olivia Reimers attend to over 800 animals spread across 15 acres at Bramble Park Zoo.
The keepers follow a daily routine, which consists of a designated group of animals each will take care of, feed, clean and watch for health or behavioral issues. However, they’re all cross-trained to do any routine.
“A lot of what zookeepers do is cleaning up after the animals,” said zoo Director Dan Miller. “Everyone thinks it’s this glamorous job – I mean, it is glamorous – but (they have) the day-to-day routine of fixing diets, cleaning the bear exhibit and cleaning the cat poop.”
To Reimers, being a zookeeper means being “a maid, a nurse, a dietician (and) a grounds keeper. We do it all.”
The full-time zookeepers are either veterinary technicians or they have a related degree and years of experience. They do behavioral training with the animals every day, teaching them to open their mouths, show paws and lay still on command to make regular examinations and treatments less traumatic.
“(The zookeepers) form a relationship with some of the animals,” said Miller. “Some of the calmest people are the best zookeepers, I think, because they’re calm around the animals and build a good rapport with them.”
John Gilman, who handles the birds and big cats, has worked at the zoo for nearly 24 years and never thought he would end up working with the cats. “Working with the cats is really interesting,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because they could potentially kill you, but they have such personalities.”
Bill Gallagher, who has worked at Bramble Park Zoo for approximately 18 years, thinks he has the best job. “Once you’ve hand-fed a grizzly bear when you’re 18 years old, how could you get better than that?”
Bramble Park Zoo, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), houses a diverse animal collection, from native animals like bison and wolves to exotic animals like the primates. Over 120 mammals, 200 birds, 60 reptiles and approximately 300 fish call the zoo their home.
The zookeepers are dedicated to providing thorough care and a bright future for the animals.
“They’re the backbone of the zoo,” Miller said. “Without the zookeepers, we wouldn’t have a zoo.”
This photo story is a part of a Day in the Life photo stories produced for the Watertown Public Opinion.
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