Zookeeper Bec Scott begins her day caring for the tallest animal at the National Zoo and Aquarium — Hummer the giraffe.
She hoists his breakfast of lucerne and wattle five metres up a pole.
“Hummer … gets quite hungry, so we head down there first thing in the morning to put his food out,” Ms Scott said.
She then checks and washes his feet before letting him out into his enclosure.
“Hummer is 16 years old and he needs work on his feet, they do get a little bit overgrown sometimes,” Ms Scott said.
“He might step on a pebble or get some dirt stuck up inside his hooves, so before we let him out we hose them out and do any care on them.”
Ms Scott then drives her buggy around to the deer where she rakes up all the droppings.
“It’s a pretty epic job; they have tiny little poos and they’re everywhere.”
The deer also need some extra TLC.
“Our deer get sunburnt ears over summer, so every three days we’ll pop a bit of powdered sunscreen on their ears.”
The tigers are up next, and again it is time to get out the pooper scooper.
“Every day we go in, pick up the poo, we scrub the water bowl and check for anything that’s in the enclosure that’s abnormal,” Ms Scott said.
It’s then on to the lions to clean their enclosure, check their teeth and feed them.
After lunch, it’s time to check on Hummer again.
“We give him some more food because he likes to browse throughout the day and if he runs out of food he gets a bit antsy.”
Ms Scott spends the afternoon running the Meet a Cheetah encounter where visitors get the chance to pat Jura the cheetah.
Hummer’s enclosure is then cleaned and the tigers are given access to their dens.
“We put something in their dens as well, whether it be a scent or some tree leaves or another toy,” Ms Scott said.
All of the animals are given a final check and observations are recorded before heading home for the day.
“A key part of our job is to report and make observations on all of our animals, whether there’s anything behaviourally different, they might be coming into season, or pregnant, or unwell,” Ms Scott said.
“It’s a busy day.”
Every day is different
Many of the keepers at the National Zoo rotate through looking after different animals which each have individual requirements.
“I like the everyday challenges; you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get until you turn up,” Ms Scott said.
“Animals are such incredible personalities to work with. You get the cranky ones, the ones who’ve had a bad day, or ones that are just playful that day.”
Ms Scott has been a zookeeper for 16 years and she enjoys how varied the job can be.
“Even picking up the poo is fun. You grow to love it,” she said.
“You’re being active, out in the open air and getting up close and personal with your animals.”
Hard work rain, hail or shine
But there is a lot more to being a keeper than pats and cuddles.
“A lot of people think that all we do is sit around and pat our animals all day, but only about 2 per cent of our day is that, if that,” she said.
“Zookeeping is quite a physical job, there’s a lot of hard work.
“We have to be out in the weather; regardless of whether it’s sunny or windy or rainy, the animals still need to eat and have their enclosures cleaned and so those days can be quite trying.”
And some days can be extra challenging.
“Sometimes you might come in and find that you have an animal that is unwell,” Ms Scott said.
“When you’re working with that animal every day, it can be quite trying to realise that your animal is not in its best shape.
“That is a reality that we have to face … and we work really hard to make that animal better as soon as possible.
“Seeing animals recover from an illness or an injury is quite rewarding as well.”