A Day in the Life: Chimp Zookeeper

Temperature: High of 85. Low of 71. Chimps can be locked out on exhibit all day.

Two keepers are required to work the building and check locks for shifting. Today’s keepers: Vicky and Nikki

Morning team meeting provided the following updates for chimp building: chimpanzee Bao is still on antibiotics to help heal a wound he received from another chimp a few days ago. The wound is healing nicely. So far no infection has set in.

Keepers are always in protective contact with chimps. Meaning there is always something between us and them. Both keepers do a face check of every chimp to ensure all are still in the holding area. When all are identified, locks are checked to ensure its safe to go out on exhibit. There must be two secure doors at every access route between chimps and keepers when keepers enter an animal area. Exhibit is cleaned from the day before. All leftover food and feces are picked up. The public glass is cleaned with vinegar solution and morning greens and forages are spread out. Chimps have a natural behavior of foraging for food, so keepers are encouraged to get creative with greens and forage placement to encourage foraging behavior. Greens are their favorite lettuce spread throughout the exhibit while forages vary from the day to day. It can be dry cereal, peanuts, fruits or vegetables, ice treats, or biscuits. Once the exhibit is set up, one keeper must walk the perimeter of the exhibit to ensure that no branches have fallen that the chimps can use to climb the wall. They need to make sure no branches overhang the wall that the chimps can use to bridge across it. Keepers must look for any parts of the wall that might be broken/compromised and that there are no handholds the chimps can use to climb out. Keepers must not leave anything on the exhibit. Everything they took with them out on the exhibit, must come off.

Medications and diets are prepped. Meds are given in peanut butter and jelly. If a chimp refuses a medication, keepers must get creative. If a chimp still refuses, the veterinary staff is notified. Some chimps are suspicious of every piece of food handed to them while others happily take their meds for the extra treat. Thankfully Bao, the chimp receiving antibiotics, has a sweet tooth and likes taking his meds. The chimps have body checks every week. Keepers will do the assigned body checks before chimps eat. Each chimp is trained to know every body part from the top of their head to the base of their foot. Body checks are to ensure nothing is wrong with a chimp. To document any injuries from the smallest scratch to anything severe. Body conditions are assessed and scored. Every chimp is marked thin, fair, good, or overweight. Body checks also include ultrasound training. Chimpanzees are susceptible to heart disease so ultrasound training is started when they’re young to desensitize them to it and encourage them to participate when they’re older.

Diets are brought out after everyone is accounted for and trained. All chimps are stationed at different places. Each bucket is marked with a shape and color and each chimp knows which bucket is theirs. Chimps are handfed their diets by keepers to ensure everyone eats and we can monitor how much they eat. Chimps are fed half their diet in the morning and the other half when they come off exhibit for the night. Keepers must mind their fingers when feeding the chimps and never stick them through the mesh when feeding. Some chimps take their food in hand while others prefer taking it in mouth. If you stick your fingers through the mesh, you risk getting grabbed or getting a finger chopped off. Chimps can stick their fingers and lips through the mesh, so be mindful.

Once chimps are fed, all keepers are accounted for to make sure no one is still on the exhibit and perimeter locks to the exhibit are checked by two keepers. Keepers must verbally confirm with each other that they’re good to let chimps out before shifting chimps onto exhibit. If chimps are passing through multiple shift doors to get onto the exhibit, they must have a straight shot. Meaning all outside doors must be opened before the first door chimps have access too. Keepers count the chimps as they go out to be sure everyone has left the holding area. They are locked into exhibit if temperatures are sufficient and two keepers visually check all stalls the chimps had access to in case any chimps are left in the building. Once stalls are checked, keepers must check the perimeter locks to the stalls they enter for cleaning. There must be two secure doors between keepers in holding stalls and the Chimps at all times. If this is unable to be done, a bar and chain are placed in the shift door to further secure it.

With stalls open, cleaning begins. All stalls are swept out, hosed, scrubbed with soap and bleach, and rinsed. Each day has a different area that gets disinfected as additional cleaning. The perching in the stall gets taken down and replaced and toys are removed for bleaching. Perching can be strung up fire hoses, cargo nets, large tires, or plastic toys. Toys can be anything plastic from children’s beach toys to outdoor playhouses. Today’s disinfecting was stall 6 plus the chimp restraint. When cleaning is finished, compost is run.

Lunch time.

The chimp chat is after lunch. Two keepers head to the public area with throwable treats for the chimps. One keeper talks facts to the public about chimps for ten minutes while the other keeper throws treats to keep chimps engaged. Treats must last the full ten minutes. Thrower must be careful to not cause fights between the chimps and not reward begging behavior. Different treats have varying value among the chimps. No one will fight over biscuit balls, but bananas are high value. If a chimp doesn’t receive any treats due to others taking it, it’s okay. These treats aren’t essential toward the chimps’ daily diet.

After chat, kitchen stuff is done. Someone runs to commissary to get diets for the next day and forages for the next day are made up by keepers. Any meds for the PM are prepped. The keeper area is cleaned according to guidelines and enrichment is prepped. Extra tasks are also done for the day be it walking the zoo fence line, yardwork, or work projects.

Enrichment for the chimps varies from the day to day. It can fall under several categories: social enrichment, manipulative enrichment, sensory enrichment, or food enrichment.

Social enrichment is interaction with the chimps. Whether it’s training, playing in the hall, keepers singing or dancing for the chimps to watch or playing games in the chimp hallway for the chimps to watch. Social enrichment can also involve bringing other animals such as tortoises to the chimp hallway for the chimps to see.

Manipulative enrichment is something the chimps can interact with. They can be puzzle feeders, or fishing boxes. Chimps have a natural fishing behavior where they use sticks to collect termites out in the wild. Keepers encourage this behavior by give the chimps thin sticks to use to fish for treats outside the mesh.

Sensory enrichment is something to stimulate the chimps five senses. It can be perfume in the hallway, feathers to touch, TV outside the mess for them to watch, music from a radio, or spices put on their daily food.

Food enrichment is different food added to their forage. Keepers are encouraged to get creative with food enrichment whether its freezing bananas in ice treats, hard boiled eggs with spices, or anything approved as food enrichment.

With diets made and enrichment prepped, the chimp stalls are prepped for the night. Chimps get straw to use in making their nests. Somedays, they receive an enrichment bedding item such as boxes, grain bags, blankets, or burlap. Chimps also receive a variety of greens, and their PM forage. The chimps receive 10 stalls overnight. There must be no dead ends when giving stalls so if there is a fight overnight, no chimp can get cornered. Keepers also make sure to use the next day’s disinfecting stall limit cleaning. The chimp’s straw, forage, and greens should not go into the stall next to the exhibit access so the chimps don’t come in, take what they want, and leave again. Forage and greens are placed in stalls the chimps won’t have access too until after feeding.

With stalls set up, the chimps can be called inside when the zoo closes to the public. Two keepers must bring the chimps inside. Locks are checked to secure the area. Once both keepers verbally confirm they’re good to shift, the chimps are called off exhibit by pounding the doorknocker on the exhibit door. How fast the chimps come off exhibit varies from the day to day. Keepers utilize the stalls to shift chimps in without allowing them to back off to go back off on the exhibit. Once all chimps are in and accounted for by two keepers, PM feeding begins. If the chimps come off early enough, exhibit can be cleaned for the next day. Once feeding is finished, the chimps are given access to all their stalls for the night and all diets are recorded. We keep track of how much fruit, vegetables, and biscuits each chimps eat. Other records are inputted throughout the day whether its a wound noted on one of the chimps, who took their medicine, interactions between chimps, or what work orders were submitted that day.

Keepers finish the day by securing the area. Every lock in the building is doubled checked. When keepers are confident the area is secure for the night, they wait for the rest of the team and all keepers leave the area together. If someone else falls behind at a different routine, the team works together to get them caught up.

Published by Nikki

I am an aspiring author with one novel written and ready for representation and many in the works.

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