Dream Job: Zookeeper

May 14, 2012 4:51:27 AM PDT
A trip to the zoo takes on a whole new meaning when you're working with, rather than looking at, the animals.

Jacki McHale is a passionate animal lover who always dreamed of being a zookeeper! For one day, we made her dream come true.

Brookfield Zoo is home to more than 500 species of animals. More than 2 million people visit each year, and McHale is no exception. A stay-at-home mom from Channahon with two young children, a dog and two cats, she's spent many days at Brookfield, admiring the zoo's animals, while secretly wishing she could help care for them!

"I was surfing Facebook, and I see you guys have this comment about a dream job, and the first thing I'm thinking is ZOO!" she said.

With the help of the animal experts at Brookfield, Jacki got to be zookeeper for a day, working at six different habitats. She started from the ground up, with the giraffes.

After spreading pine shavings on the floor, it's time to hang the feeders for the tallest animals in the world, though she needs a ladder. As she hand feeds these gentle giants, Jacki is clearly in her element.

From land to sea and Pinniped Point, home of the harbor seals, Jacki worked with lead keeper Jennifer McGee in a training session with Banda.

By teaching the marine mammals these behaviors, it allows the trainers to take better care of them. Of course, some behaviors are just play.

Next stop -- the Pachyderm House and a lesson in rhino care. The black rhinoceros is highly endangered, with a total population of only 2,300! Jacki starts by preparing the food. In the wild, these massive mammals live on shrubs and leaves, their zoo diet incorporates fruit and bread used for training, that training will produce a work of art.

The rhinoceros has a prehinsile upper lip; in the wild, it's used like a finger, to grab shrubs for food. At Brookfield, Kabisa uses that lip to paint.

The final destination ? reptiles. Meet Doyle, a 15-foot, 80-pound reticulated python. He was so powerful, it took several of us to hold him, but well worth the effort.

Next up, treats for the tortoise. These Galapagos tortoises will weigh several hundred pounds by the time they reach maturity.

Nearby, it's lunchtime for the blue poison frogs! Don't worry, this alluring amphibian gets its poison from what it eats in the wild; these guys were bred and fed here.

The day wouldn't be complete without feeding a snake. The fox snake is five feet long, non-poisonous and a good eater.

If you think going behind the scenes at Brookfield Zoo is something you'd like to do, well, you can.

"We have our wild encounters program where people can do many of the things that Jacki did, coming up and working with the Harbor Seals or being with a lot of the other animals," said Tim Sullivan, curator behavioral husbandry, Brookfield Zoo.

"You guys made my dream come true! Thank you, for the best day ever!" Jacki said.

Brookfield Zoo offers more than a dozen different wild encounters programs, but there is a charge for them. They're popular, and tend to fill up quickly! http://www.czs.org/czs/Brookfield/Zoo-Home


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