Zoo keeping seems to select for a certain type of human. Not surprisingly, zookeepers are animal lovers first and foremost. That seems reasonable and quite frankly, expected, but not in a well balanced, socially healthy sort of way. Please, understand, this is a self-deprecating comment because I have dedicated my life to taking care of animals in zoos and sanctuaries. That being said, zookeepers are a group of people who do not tend to thrive in interpersonal relations. They feel disenfranchised or separated from humanity and find solace in the satisfaction of being needed unconditionally by animals. Some keepers will protest this assertion, but those are the ones that will illustrate my point. There are varying degrees to this hypothesis, which, oddly, directly corresponds to the animals for which the keeper cares.
There is a distinct correlation between how this is expressed and how the animal the keeper cares for behaves. Cat keepers, for example, tend to keep to themselves and are quietly watching and gathering information about those around them. They are not extroverts and you may think they don’t like you at first. Once they have fully assessed a situation and person and feel comfortable, they are very gregarious and pleasant people to be around, much like the felines for which they care.
Bird keepers are pleasant, happy, whistle while you work type of people. They are the first to greet a new person and you can almost see them fluff up their feather when they are happy and excited, which is often. You will find the odd, bird of prey type bird keeper. For details on their personalities see the reptile keeper description.
Reptile keepers may be the hardest nuts to crack. They are loners and perhaps the most disenfranchised of all keepers. The least interested in humans and their wacked out methods, reptile keepers do not suffer fools or anything warm blooded for that matter. They are the geniuses of the keeper world. Their intelligence seems to naturally separate them from the folly of most humans and they find solace in the predictable world of reptiles. Working with reptiles is predictable and oddly enough, safe. You wouldn’t think working with poisonous snakes as safe, and it isn’t if you’re a bunny lover. But with reptiles you know the ground rules and they are not going to change. They are what they are and you know what to expect. You appreciate them for all of their scary, slithering, poisonous “faults” and you never have to worry about them pretending to be your friend one minute then striking at you the next. That is a trait of the primates, which, incidentally, may be why most reptile keepers can’t stand the primate department. I’ve yet to meet a reptile keeper who likes primates.
Oh the primate keepers. I know this group intimately, having focused my career on non-human primates. The most difficulty primate keepers have is with the human primates, not so much their non-human charges. Socially aware, conniving and calculating, primate keepers are among the least trust worthy people in a professional setting. The book by famous and world renowned primatologist, Frans DeWall called, Chimpanzee Politics, sums up what it’s like to be a primate keeper. The book is about the politics within a chimpanzee group, but the same basic principles apply to being a primate keeper. Initially gregarious and engaging, the primate keeper is constantly watching for the sub text, eyeing out the power players and how to align themselves with those power players or how to over throw those power players. If you are new to the business, and you would have to be to not know this, never trust another primate keeper no matter how nice and helpful they may be. If you do, the last words you may hear yourself speak are, e too Brute. All that being said, being a primate keeper is wonderful if you can stay alert to the political climate within your department. Yes, I speak from experience of being too naïve myself, but that does not detract me from enjoying having been a primate keeper. I just know the non-human primates are not the only ones for whom you must watch out.
Zoo keepers are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet, even if they may not much care for the human species as much as they do their animals. There are plenty of people out there looking after the interests of other people. It takes a special few, with all their eccentricities to take care of animals. Which keeper type fits you the best? Did your natural affinity fit into the groups above? You would be surprised.