PEORIA — Paul Wenzel stood in the amphitheater asylum of the abbey display arresting the accoutrement of his trade: a able metal rake and a wide-mouthed beat shovel. He wandered the breadth on a contempo backing weekday morning in the quiet hour afore the Peoria Zoo opened for the public, abrading up apart grass, leaves, twigs and whatever $.25 of mandrill account he ability accept absent the day before.
He does this every day.
“I don’t anticipate of what I do charwoman up afterwards the animals as article that is analytical or below me in any way,” said Wenzel, who holds a bachelor’s amount in zoology from Western Illinois University. “My job is to accomplish all of the animals in my affliction the best they can be. And that includes charwoman up afterwards them.”
Only eight bodies who alive in the Peoria breadth can account “full-time zookeeper” on the activity band of their anniversary tax return. The zoo relies on a above accumulation to assassinate the circadian functions of the zoo — administrators, part-time keepers, contributed interns, aliment people, acknowledgment stand, allowance boutique and access workers, and added — but the circadian disposed of the animals, from the dung beetles to the rhinos, avalanche on the solid amateur and backs of the eight keepers.
“Zookeepers are a altered breed. It takes a appropriate actuality to address their activity to this blazon of work. They are absolutely the affection and body of the zoo,” said Kim Scott, babysitter of animals at the zoo. “They are the voice, eyes and aerial for the animals they booty affliction of. They will be the aboriginal to apprehension if article is amiss or to analyze a charge the beastly ability have.”
It’s added than admiring animals.
“They accept to be OK with actuality bedraggled and evil-smelling best of the day. Anniversary and every one of them has accomplished addition in their about wrinkling their adenoids at them and dispatch aback a few anxiety back they are in band at the grocery store. They accept to be OK with aching analysis at the end of the day, assignment with acerbic diaphoresis in their eyes or fingers and toes activity aloof in the winter. Not to acknowledgment accepting peed or pooped on can be a circadian occurrence, abnormally if you’re a bird keeper. They do it all because they accept in the broader mission of their career choice, which is attention and education.”
The Peoria Zoo opened in 1955 as the circus-style home of assuming animals. Consistent with the times, the zoo did not affection animals in enclosures that resembled their accustomed habitats. By the aboriginal 1970s, zoos civic were affective abroad from the bazaar appearance appearance and alpha to apply on education. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums bestowed aloft the zoo its aboriginal accreditation in 1976.
In 1989, the nationally broadcast Parade Annual listed the Glen Oak Zoo as one of the 10 affliction in America. The AZA put the zoo’s cachet on authority in 2002. The Peoria Park District stered its veterinary staff, added its funding, fabricated improvements and started adopting money for a new multi-animal display alleged Africa. The $25 actor Africa display opened in 2009. The Peoria Zoo is AZA-accredited through 2022.
The annual ability accept advised the facility, but it didn’t agency in the bodies who formed there, Wolfram said.
“We had a columnist appointment afterwards the appraisement came out and got a agglomeration of copies of the Parade annual and lined our bird cages with them to accomplish a point,” said administrator Roz Wolfram, who was there at the time. “They ability accept had an assessment that helped accomplish a burst in some magazine, but they didn’t apperceive what we were all about.”
“Sometimes keepers and zoos are managing animals on the border of afterlife and accept astronomic albatross to a breed survival,” Scott said. “They feel a abundant accord of burden to do the best they can, not abandoned for the abandoned beastly that they band with on a claimed akin every day, but for the greater citizenry in beastly care.”
Understanding zookeepers goes a continued way against compassionate the zoo.
Wenzel, 36, started as a part-time administrator in 2006, back it was accepted as Glen Oak Park Zoo. He was acknowledgment to a full-time babysitter in 2010 and currently tends to the animals in Cord 6. That’s home to two of the zoo’s best famous, and oldest, residents: spider monkeys Agnes, who is 45, and Butch, 44.
There’s additionally two changeable mandrills called Philly and Tara. During a contempo visit, Wenzel explained that the about ephemeral attendance of claret in the mandrill autogenous asylum was because Tara was in estrus. Zookeepers, it would anon be again confirmed, tend to allege bluntly adjoin the analysis and analysis of the animals in their care.
“I started out as a veterinary assistant,” said Wenzel, who accelerating from Western Illinois with a amount in zoology. “I abstruse appealing bound that calm animals were not my forte, not breadth my affection was.”
Wenzel grew up in Knoxville. His ancestors endemic no pets until his adolescent sister entered aerial academy and they got a dog. A allure with animals developed forth a altered string.
“I apprehend Zoobooks, a alternation of books with a lot of absorbing facts and abstracts about animals,” Wenzel said. “For instance, did you apperceive a adolescent could airing cocked central a dejected whale’s arteries?”
He starts his banal agriculture the primates in his care. He pulls a alternation and opens a aperture and Agnes, the spider monkey, walks through to be fed. The two others, Butch and Darla, could airing through, too, but they adjourn to Agnes, who eats breakfast of aflame carrots, cucumbers and kale abandoned on the adhesive floor.
“I never try to blow or pet,” Wenzel said. “You don’t amusement them like pets. I like to anticipate that it is my albatross to advice them alive the best activity they possibly can have, aloof like their agrarian cousins in the rain forest.”
Wenzel sees educating the accessible about animals to be as important as the act of caring for them.
“When the concrete assignment and the circadian adequation of the affairs becomes a bullwork is usually back you see some kid aflame alfresco the display attractive at the animals and you bethink why you do it,” he said. “That is a acceptable day at the zoo.”
All in the name
Roz Wolfram, whose name is notably, and appropriately, a admixture chat that combines two animals (get it? Wolf. Ram. Wolfram) is the administrator of the zoo’s zookeepers. She started as a part-time babysitter in 1979 and was acknowledgment to full-time three years later. Her breadth is Cord 6, home to a assemblage of giraffes, a blast of white rhinos and two Thomson’s gazelles that are currently air-conditioned out in a 30-day apprehension afore actuality placed in accessible view.
Wolfram’s dad knew the zoo director, who gave her a job back she was 16. She ran the pony sweep, a affection that let accouchement ride in circles on the backs of ponies that were chained to a centermost pole.
“Thankfully, that is article that we accept outgrown,” Wolfram said.
After a brace of decades in the business, Wolfram capitulated to the new educational requirements of the avant-garde zookeeper’s resume and got an assembly amount from Illinois Central College.
Not that she bare a lot of classroom learning.
“I accept the charge for education. I get it,” Wolfram said while central a addled giraffe asylum at the zoo, breadth four analytical giraffes eavesdropped on the chat from their alfresco paddock area. “I like to anticipate I got a workingman’s Ph.D.”
Wolfram can bung a array of hay 8-feet in the air over the barred aboideau that separates the zoo’s two macho Southern white rhinos from adverse encounters with the advantageous public. Or added zoo employees. Back she scratches a rhino’s base in aloof the appropriate spot, he raises and wiggles a afterwards leg in the air, aloof like a puppy.
“That’s what I alarm them — puppies,” she said. “Big, enormous, dangerous, puppy dogs. With horns.”
Wolfram spends her mornings agriculture the animals, giving them their medications for affliction and joints and charwoman their enclosures, both central and outdoors. In an attack to abbreviate accustomed behaviors, the zoo doles out affluence of bearing ascendancy medicine. Vivian, the changeable giraffe who has accustomed bearing to two beasts (one did not survive), takes her anesthetic central a rye brittle sandwich. Wolfram spends her afternoons accomplishing paperwork — the day’s observations and activities are anxiously logged — and advancing aliment for the aing morning.
A big allotment of the keepers’ job is beastly enrichment, or accouterment the animals tasks and adventures above the accepted of active beneath the analysis and boring of humans. Aftermost week, she rubbed aroma samples ripped from magazines on rocks and added appearance in the giraffe enclosure, giving the animals a aroma of article out of the ordinary.
“No musk, however,” she said. “That is the aroma of added animals.”
The best they can be
Regan Slonecker absolved into her appointment beginning from the morning affair in the zoo kitchen that starts anniversary workday. There were red river hogs to her left, colobus monkeys to her appropriate and lions appropriate in advanced of her.
Slonecker, 38, of Silvis, has been a administrator for 15 years, the aftermost eight as a full-time babysitter at the Peoria Zoo. She takes affliction of the the animals in Cord 5, which board bristles lions, three zebras, three colobus monkeys and the best cardinal of red river hogs the zoo has the amplitude to board — six. They are accomplished breeders.
The lions, Arthur, Lizzie and their three “cubs,” that are absolutely the admeasurement of golf carts, looked aloft the beastly visitors with what appeared, to the unfamiliar, to be arduous intent. Teeth flashed. One cub hissed. A low cavernous bark that acquainted like it vibrated central the , came from one, two, three, four or all bristles of the lions. It was adamantine to tell, as they confused about their asylum never axis abroad from the strangers in their midst.
“They can be appealing intimidating,” said Slonecker, who sees them every day.
Arthur and Lizzie are kept abstracted from their cubs. Lizzie was not the best mother to her babies — they were canteen fed back accustomed bairn did not action — and still can’t be trusted to not act aggressively if kept together. They alternating canicule in the alfresco asylum and accept confined amid them back they are inside.
“I’m not activity to lie, captivation a bobcat cub on your lap and agriculture her from a canteen is a thrill,” Slonecker said. “But I would accept adopted the accustomed way with their mother. The ambition is to accomplish them the best bobcat they can be.”
She thinks the implacable, black-and-white, long-furred colobus monkeys resemble Muppets. Unlike abounding of the animals in the zoo, their close thoughts are mostly shut off from beastly interpretation. That is, unless you feed, alleviate and apple-pie their active amplitude every day.
“I accept no acumen to anticipate they are the atomic bit unhappy,” she said.
Slonecker has a amount in beastly anatomy from Iowa State University. She is quiet, aggressive and thoughtful. The day afterwards she was job-shadowed for this story, she had a bigger acknowledgment for a catechism that had agitated her.
“I anticipation about the question, about why we don’t augment alive casualty to the lions,” she said, canonizing the chat about the 8½ pounds of horse meat that Arthur eats accustomed and the 5 pounds accustomed to the four females. “Some of the acumen is because it wouldn’t be fair to the prey. It wouldn’t be a accustomed ambience to put a alive beastly in with the lions, it wouldn’t be a fair attempt for the prey. The lions assume to adulation the aliment we accord them.”
Last anniversary a accumulation of 20 advisers stood about the edges of the aflame kitchen area, sat on the stainless abduct counters and listened to the day’s instructions. They talked about the aged pythons, the hornbill adjusting to his new space, a diabetic kinkajou and some capacity of a bells accession on Saturday black in the Zambezi acknowledgment room.
“Anything else,” asked Scott back they had briefly run out of things to allocution about. “Nothing? OK. See you later. Go to work.”
Scott Hilyard can be accomplished at 686-3244 or by email at [email protected] Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.
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