This past week I ended up spending a lot of time in the Zoo’s bear area, appropriately named Bear Country. In the area, we have our three sloth bears, a polar bear, an Asiatic black bear, and an Andean bear. Many of these animals time-share the exhibits on hand, switching in and out throughout the day. It’s only recently occurred to me how large our behind-the-scenes operation is. We have over a thousand animals in our facility, but many of those animals are never even seen by the public. As someone who unfortunately will likely never get to go behind the scenes, it makes me wonder where we keep them all. The Zoo seems so compact, filled to the brim with almost 4,000 guests per day, but outside of the paths exists a whole new side of things. It makes me a little sad that I won’t get to see it, since that is where I would rather get to spend my time, but working on the paths with the public has its own rewards as well.
I’m learning so much about the animals just through exposure; the “sensational seven” (who we have, diet, habitat, life expectancy, average size, social habits, and conservation status) are the most important, and I’ve been absorbing more and more as I travel through the Zoo on my stations. Talking with the Zoo’s adult volunteers helps as well; they received six months of training, as opposed to the interns’ single day of orientation. Picking up information on the fly feels like 90% of my job, the other 10% being to pretend that I know what I’m talking about when I’m speaking to the public. It’s an interesting paradox; guests look to me like I’m some kind of authority, but in reality I’m barely a step ahead of them. Perhaps that will change as time goes on, but right now I’ll have to settle for looking important with my shirt, khakis, and clipboard.