Animal Handling 101

October 8, 2011 | Tag(s): Junior Keepers
By: Brenda, Director of Education and Volunteers, Audubon Zoo

Look at this photo closely.  It represents a lot of great things and one thing that will be great by the time you see this picture.  The photo represents a beautiful day at the Audubon Zoo and an important training component of our Junior Keeper program.  Every animal handler (and many are Junior Keepers) that you encounter at the Audubon Zoo has been trained, tested and certified in animal handling.  This photo represents a young Junior Keeper being certified by zoo educator, Sarah Valley, on one of our beloved beginning animals-the guinea pig.

Animal handling certification is broken into three categories: beginning, intermediate and advanced. Every handler must work a minimum of 12 hours of a particular animal before they can be certified.  You cannot be certified on an advanced animal until you have been certified on all the beginning and intermediate.  What is a beginning animal?  Guinea pigs, box turtles and hissing cockroaches.  What makes an advanced animal?  Large pythons and birds-of-prey.

To be certified on an animal by education staff the volunteers must complete an animal fact sheet and be able to give out interesting information.  The young fellow in the photo was able to tell the guests: guinea pigs are born with full fur and open eyes, guinea pigs are members of the rodent family, guinea pigs taste good and are eaten by people in western South America and much more.

Now what is wrong with this picture that zoo educator Sarah was trying to correct? The guinea pig was not exactly being held properly.  All animals presented to the public must be presented rear end first.  We all know that anything with a mouth can bite so we avoid possible bites by having guests have access only to the back end.  From this photo it is also apparent that this young Junior Keeper was more comfortable holding reptiles than round mammals like the guinea pig.   We always teach guinea pig handlers that the animal is similar to a large baked potato with small legs-support that potato! Sarah gently guided the young volunteer until he got the holding part correct.

It takes a lot of training and patience to get our volunteers animal certified and we hope that you as guests can appreciate it.  Our volunteers aim to get certified in all the animals of our collection and that is admirable because it takes a lot of practice and studying to do it right.  Come visit us at the Audubon Zoo and you can encounter lots of great animals and the volunteers that present them.