Hamilton Zoo’s 25 zoo keepers will mark their professional international day today (Friday, 4 October).
International Zoo Keepers Day is held annually, and it’s a chance for the Hamilton Zoo zookeepers – who care for more than 600 individual animals – to reflect on the importance of their work conserving rare species.
“Most zookeepers will tell you they became zoo keepers because they love animals and wanted to make their passion their career,” says Hamilton Zoo Curator Cheridan Mathers.
“They are also keen conservationists and modern zoos play an integral part in saving different species.”
Louise Gilmore is one of Hamilton Zoo’s zoo keepers, and holds a biology degree – a qualification which included placement at Hamilton Zoo.
Louise is a passionate zoo professional who has “never looked back” after joining the industry.
As Team Leader for Primates and Small Carnivores, Louise manages a range of the zoo’s animals – including three-year-old chimpanzee Chiku, who was born at Hamilton Zoo, and is one of her favourite animals.
“When I get some time to actually spend with the animals I realise what I’m working with,” Louise says.
“Suddenly, you have that moment where you’re like ‘Oh my goodness, I’m working with something that you’d never get to see up close’.
“These things used to absolutely blow my mind when I was a kid. And I just wanted to get close to them and get to know them. And there it is, you’ve got a lemur hanging out beside you when you’re cleaning.”
Louise says one of her most rewarding zoo keeping experiences has been her involvement with the rearing of juvenile white rhino Ubuntu.
It was a difficult birth for Kito (the mother),” Louise says.
“Kito had him and he was born blind and she was a first-time mum so she didn’t know how to feed him. I was quite a new keeper but I got to be a part of milking her, to supplement feed Ubuntu.
“You have to milk them by hand, and then get the colostrum out so that you can bottle feed the baby. So that was really cool. And the coolest thing about that is the fact that eventually after maybe four or five days we managed to get Ubuntu feeding off Kito, and then we could just leave them to it.”
Cheridan says building relationships with the individual animals is very special, but it’s even better when that is shared with a visitor and see the enthusiasm get sparked them.
“If people feel they have a connection with an animal they are more likely to want to help it.
“Hamilton Zoo is part of both national and international breeding programs – so our animals do move around to other zoos depending on the program recommendation and likewise we get new animals coming in.
“This is amazing for them as it usually means they are moving into a breeding situation, but it’s always hard to say goodbye to animals you have worked closely with.”
Cheridan says there are particular qualities managers look for in aspiring zoo keepers.
“We look for motivated people with a keen work ethic,” she says
“Those who have volunteered usually stand out as that shows they are really invested in animals and people.
“There are a few different ways you can get into zoo keeping – a science degree with a work experience placement, vet nursing, zoo keeping course run through Unitech and of course volunteering!”
Hamilton Zoo is open 363 days of the year.