One of the most incredible experiences I have had so far was my week of work experience at Bristol Zoo in the summer of 2019. I went from the 19th to the 23rd of August, with the day starting at 8am and finishing at 4.30pm. I was on the mammals section and I got to work with some absolutely amazing animals and learn so much about them and their welfare needs, and the experience fuelled my interest in conservation and the role of zoos in it.
On my first day at the zoo, I was given my uniform and sent to the mammals office. There, the zoo keepers were assigned sections for the day- the mammals are split into 6 sections. I was with the zoo keeper for section 3, which housed animals such as raccoons, red panda, sloths, armadillo, golden headed lion tamarins, drills and blue-eyed black lemurs that were all off display. The morning was spent cleaning the enclosures- I had to poo pick and scrub the apparatus, as well as cleaning and changing water bowls and enrichment toys. The morning feed is given, with some insects (locusts, crickets or mealworms) put in toys for animals to get out. One of the red pandas had dental problems and was prescribed painkillers, which were given with the morning feed, however it didn’t have a particularly good appetite. The keeper on that section was also training a drill for and upcoming transfer, so I watched her do that. She had to make sure he would sit in his box so that he could be easily and calmly moved, which she did be encouraging him using honey water as a reward. Me being there as an extra person made him a bit more skittish than usual, however the keeper said that it was good practice for when there will be other new people there on the day of the actual transfer. The other animals that were trained on that section were the lemurs, who go into tubes before feeding to make caring easier and less stressful for the animals if necessary At the zoo, they use foot dips at all doors between sections and into enclosures to ensure biosecurity- it was Monday so they had to be emptied out and replaced with new solution. The feed needs to be prepared for the next dat, so we went to the kitchen to prepare portions. The veg was split into leafy, starchy or watery, with different amounts and sizes for each per animal. The animals were given their afternoon feed, and there were various other cleaning tasks I did through the day, such as sweeping the floor.
On day 2, I was on the twilight world section, with animals such as yellow mongoose, spiny mice, eastern quoll, aye ayes, bats, mouse deer and loris. The day followed the usual routine of cleaning, feeding and preparing meals. Other tasks specific to the section were preparing kebabs of fruit and vegetables for the bats for their afternoon feed, cleaning the long corridor behind the exhibits throughout the day and re-organising the enrichment and cleaning cupboards. One thing I found particularly interesting was the Arabic gum branches I prepared for the loris- by putting Arabic gum in holes in branches, the keepers simulated how they would eat tree sap as a source of sugar in the wild. As well as this, an old mongoose was given his medication by injecting it into a locust that he would happily eat.
I was on section 4 on day three, with animals including meerkats, tree kangaroos and aye-ayes. As well as cleaning, feeding and prepping food, there were other tasks specific to animals on this section. The meerkats had to have their holes stamped down just in case one gets trapped if the sand collapses, and the tree kangaroos need to be target trained- they touch a ‘target’ and get food and a click as a reward. The male one does this in his crush so that transportation is easier, and also presents his flank for the zoo keeper to lightly poke to make injections easier if they are required. The female tree kangaroo does this on a platform with a small bar in front so that she can stand up for the keeper to check her pouch. On that day, the vet came to give the mouse deer injections, along with university students who were observing. The mouse deer are extremely skittish so the vet and a few keepers used foam blocks to slowly herd one into a corner so that it could be held securely and injected properly.
On my penultimate day at the zoo I was with animals such as howler monkeys, spider monkeys, macaques, ring tailed lemurs and crowned lemurs on the monkey jungle section. The monkeys, as well as vegetables, were fed with different types of monkey pellet depending on the species. These pellets were soaked and then shaped into bigger balls that were scattered around the enclosure. The cleaning on this section was also different as the keepers can’t go in the enclosure with any of the animals, so they are first shut into the upstairs section of their enclosures. This caused a bit of an issue for the macaques as the dominant female had just left so there were some hierarchy problems, meaning that the less dominant female was reluctant to be shut in with the rest of the group. One of the other macaques, Damien, was very old so had to have medication given to him mixed with honey and banana baby food powder- the ratio had to be just right or he’d refuse to eat it! He was given calpol and an anti inflammatory medication. Ellie the spider monkey also had to be given herbal medication to calm her down as she can get very distressed when visitors interact with her and then leave. The medicine helped her focus on her baby, and there were signs around the spider monkey enclosure telling guests to not interact with her. By then I had mastered the art of the squeegee after my time on twilight and spent a while cleaning the corridors of the building. All of the animals on this section were also trained into their crushes to assist with transportation using honey water as a reward.
My last day at the zoo was on the monkey island section with the squirrel monkeys, gibbons, golden headed lion tamarins and golden tamarins. As these animals live on islands, the paths have to be raked and the windows have to be cleaned on the buildings as well as the usual cleaning tasks. The squirrel monkeys also had a humidifier in their enclosure to ensure that they don’t get dry skin. One of the most fascinating things that I watched was the gibbons being trained. They are extremely intelligent, enough to know that they can’t be shut in to the box completely if they put one hand outside, which means that training takes a long time and a lot of trust between the animals and the trainer. They are trained in the crush and also on scales. In the crush, they have hold onto a target for as long as they are told. The most intelligent gibbon, Dwana, was very good at holding the target but always made sure to keep one hand out of the box. The other, Sam Sam, puts all limbs inside but doesn’t like to hold the target for very long. I didn’t see the scales training, but the keeper told me that they have individual sessions with different keepers. The tamarins all had Arabic gum to imitate the tree sap they would eat in the wild, which I gave them with a mouth syringe. The tamarins are split into multiple groups like they would be in the wild, with the offspring staying for a few years to help raise new young and then leaving to create their own breeding groups.
My Bristol Zoo placement was an excellent experience that allowed me to work both with animals I never dreamed I would be able to, and in a large and experienced team at the zoo. Aside from all that I learnt about the animals themselves, I also strengthened my independent initiative and confidence- a big improvement from my last placement! I felt I worked hard at all tasks and completed them to the best of my ability. Some improvements I could have made would be being more outgoing from the very start of my placement there (although it’s important not to be too overconfident when doing things you’ve never done before). This placement was amazing and I’d highly recommend it to anyone!