Did you know you can make an impact by leaving a review? I’m not talking about the whole: leaving a good review brightens people’s day, leaving a bad one tears it down kinda thing. I’m talking about leaving a review to impact actual change.
Nikki, what are you talking about?
Let me get more specific. I’m a zookeeper. I currently take care of hippos, chimpanzees, and a couple bird and reptile species. This is only a tiny fraction of the all the animals my zoo houses. Each year, our zoo works to better itself whether its by building a new feature or exhibit, or improving an old feature or exhibit. One year, elephants got redone, another year orangutangs did. In the next ten years, we plan on adding new animals to our collection. Which is great. New animals mean new opportunities to learn for both keepers and public. However, that could also mean other areas of the zoo get overlooked. Areas that really need the help.
As a zookeeper, I can tell you that every keeper at my zoo wants what’s best for the animals in our care. We want to see improvements to our exhibits and buildings. We want the old, outdated stuff torn down and new and improved habitats built in their place. We want our animals to be able to preform every natural behavior they would in the wild. So, we push for change. We ask our management for these improvements and for the possibility of getting in the ten year plan. However, the problem lies in the fact that the zoo is also a business.
As weird as it sounds, the zoo is a business. A business has to stay open to survive. In order to stay open, you need to make money. In order to make money, you need to attract people. To attract people, you give them what they want. How do you know what they want?
You read the reviews.
The next exhibit getting an upgrade at my zoo is getting it because of the reviews people left after visiting. So, let’s say we had a third of our visitors for the past several years say they wished they could’ve seen the lions better. Well, management will look at that and decide the lion exhibit needs upgraded. Which is great. We’re giving the people what they want. Maybe more people will come to see the lions now? Maybe they’ll leave a better review? More people + good reviews = more revenue, right? Yet, in my humble opinion, there are other exhibits that need the upgrade more. So, in this lion scenario. Even though visitors can’t see the lions very well, the lions have a large exhibit, and its on a hill so it doesn’t flood. Their shift doors all work, there’s no questionable parts of their holding areas, or facilities that need repaired. Everything may be a little outdated, but it’s all functionable. Now, let’s look at a hypothetical tiger exhibit. The public can see easily see the tigers on exhibit. No one is complaining about not seeing the tigers. Yet, the tiger exhibit isn’t as large as the lion exhibit and when it rains, half the exhibit floods. Let’s say their behind-the-scenes holding area has cracks in the walls and the shift doors don’t line up. Keepers can request that something be done and they’ll do their best to trench out the water from the exhibit, but management is looking at the numbers of people wanting to see the lions, so they’ll put off tigers as long as they can to give the public what they want.
It’s sounds terrible, right? How could a zoo bypass an animal area that needs help and improve an area that doesn’t? It’s because of the business aspect. While every person at the zoo cares for the animals, management has to look at what’s going to keep us open. It’s a tough job and it’s super frustrating to us zookeepers, but after 2020’s COVID, a lot of zoos are struggling to get the funding we lost. Us, zookeepers, will continued to make the best of what we have for the betterment of our animals. We’ll continue raising our voices to see improvements in our facilities, but there is one voice stronger than ours:
If you want to make a zookeeper’s day, ask them what you can put in your review of the zoo. The animal caretakers know what need to be improved, so if you ask them and express that you want to help, they’ll tell you. Then you can tell our management through your review what changes need to be done.
Now, I’m not saying you should leave a bad review for your local zoo. Don’t be one of those people who complain about everything and say our animals look so sad. Your review won’t be taken seriously. If you want to be taken seriously, complement us, then tell us what you’d like to see changed. Like this:
Example review: “We loved coming out to see the chimpanzees. We caught the keeper chat and really felt the care the keepers had for their animals. My kids loved seeing the chimps playing with their enrichment. My youngest really wanted to see the baboons, but the exhibit was closed due to flooding.”
That’s a really nice review–and yes, I’m patting us chimp keepers on the back. This review expresses what you liked seeing, and inserts a line requesting change. If enough people comment about the hypothetical flooding in this baboon exhibit, then ideally management will realize something needs to be done. It may not feel like you’re doing much, but a single grain of rice can tip the scales, right?
So, when you go to the zoo, and I STRONGLY encourage you to go to your local zoo, I hope you’ll ask a zookeeper what improvements you can request to see in your review. That way, we can work together to bring about real change for the betterment of our animals.