This post was written by Annie Murchison.
How many people can say they have shoveled giraffe AND rhino poop? I, Annie Murchison, Public Relations intern at the Houston Zoo can now proudly cross that one off my bucket list. In order to better understand the inner workings of the zoo, I ventured outside of my usual office routine to shadow the hoofed stock team last Thursday. Hoofed stock keepers care for mammals with hooves and include everything from rhinos to okapis to giraffes.
I grew up coming to the Houston Zoo for camp, field trips, and family fun. My six-year-old self desperately wanted to be a zoo keeper, all the way up until the point where I realized that biology was not my strong suit. (However, I learned Thursday that one can work their way up to become a keeper with a psychology major and good amount of experience.) Thursday was essentially a childhood dream come true.
My day started bright and early at 7 a.m. in the hoofed stock trailer for a team meeting before heading off to begin work. The team meets up every morning before the zoo opens to get their assignments and discuss goals for the day. I was assigned to team of keepers and their interns that looked after giraffes and rhinos for the morning. Our first stop was the rhino exhibit—we began with clearing yesterday’s hay from the exhibit, along with any poop. Once this was done, we spread out new bales of hay and scattered lettuce and carrots around the habitat for the rhinos to find. Heading back to the barn, I was able to get up close and personal with the zoo’s three white rhinos, watching keepers perform training exercises and weigh all three before moving them to their outside yard. The zoo’s rhinos weigh about 3,000 pounds each and still have a bit of growing to do. Adult male white rhinoceroses can weigh up to 5,000 pounds! Next we moved to giraffes. Like rhinos, our first duty was clearing the space of any poop from the outdoor yard and placing food around the habitat. Once that was done, we moved the giraffes outside and began to clean the poop that accumulated in the barn over the night—no easy task. To fully clean the barn we shoveled it out, hosed the barn down, and eventually power washed the floor, all of which took about three hours.
Unfortunately my day as a zookeeper at the zoo ended at noon, when I returned to my office for an entirely different kind of work. Thursday provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at, not only the animals that call the Houston Zoo home, but the keepers who go above and beyond to care for them. They do more than just clean the exhibit, feed, and care for the animals; they have a special bond with each animal and can recognize their individual personalities and daily moods. Life as an animal (and intern) at the Houston Zoo is pretty awesome.