I woke up this morning unemployed. It’s a very strange feeling.
5 years and 2 months ago was my first day and I was nearly 3 hours late! Within 4 days I had done my back in and I constantly felt I was incredibly slow to learn everything. However within that first week a young Lemur named Dominic bounced on my head and made me fall in love with primates. I had cuddled a Camel with the most incredible personality. I had met a mob of Wallabies which would later become so important to my mental health that I’m not sure what I would have done without them. And over the course of the years I have witnessed so much change and done so much. I have seen empty fields transformed into the most incredible enclosures, I have helped lift a Tigress into her dental surgery, I’ve trained a Baboon, I’ve learned how you shift eternally sleepy Anteaters into other parts of an enclosure and mostly I had found somewhere I belong.
Zoo keeping is the only thing I have ever been half decent at and it’s certainly one of the best jobs in the world. There are huge challenges within it, physically, mentally and emotionally but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Seeing an animal playing with some enrichment you’ve created was always one of my favourite aspect to the job. And being able to convince someone of the importance of conservation or inspiring them to change their habits such as buying less palm oil or lowering their thermostat makes you feel like you are doing a small part to help make a difference. And of course seeing those animals every day makes all the hugely difficult aspects of the job very much worth it. As my very eloquent colleague put it “(when you) look into the eyes of those amazing animals you can see the magic that drew us in” (Watson, 2016).
What surprised me most though was the people I met. As someone who generally prefers animals to people it can sometimes be difficult to enjoy the company of our particular species of primate. But the people that I have spent so long working alongside have been some of the most incredible people of my acquaintance. They have taught me so much, they have put up with my weirdness, they have forced me to survive, they have made me laugh so much that I cry and cry so much that I laugh. Zoo keepers are some of the most tenaciously hard working people you will ever meet and they spent their childhoods much like I did; finding wildlife, revelling in wild places, making mud pies, eating grass (nope, that was just me!) and taking care of their first ever pets. They are a tribe of good people and I have honestly never felt like I have been more accepted.
So leaving all of that was incredibly difficult.
They made it even more so by creating a hilarious and brilliant goodbye video for me, making a photo book with lovely heartfelt comments, and even baking the most deliciously moist (!) Bon Voyage cake. Throughout the course of the final 2 days I cried more times than I care to remember and the thought of leaving everyone behind was one of the hugest hurdles to overcome before this trip commences.
So from the past 5 years I would like to say an ocean of thanks to everyone I’ve met for all the experiences I’ve had, the opportunities I have been given and the animals I have been blessed enough to care for.
I love you all
It’s been EPIC!