September 26, 2022
Elephants are overrated. At least that’s what this former zookeeper thinks. A park interpreter opens up to Geth about her experience working at the zoo including the struggle to earn a decent wage. She describes her love of working with hippos and the dangers of “scary smart monkeys.” She discusses her frustration with people in her state being allowed to own exotic animals and her issues with “Tiger King.” She also shares her thoughts about keeping animals in captivity and details about her current position helping people connect to nature.
338 — Ranger Danger
Chris [00:00:04] Hello to everyone who’s not actually here to arrest anyone. It’s Beautiful/ Anonymous. One hour. One phone call. No names. No holds barred. Hi, everybody. Chris Gethard here. Welcome to another episode of Beautiful/Anonymous. Before we do anything else, I want to let you know we’ve got some live tapings coming up. October 6th, Madison, Wisconsin. October 7th, Milwaukee. October eighth, Chicago. Got live tapings as the early shows. I’m doing standup on the late shows. I’ve said often throughout the history of Beautiful/ Anonymous that it’s very strange. Wisconsin is one of six states that I have not been to in the United States. And it’s been this thing, when are you come into Wisconsin, Chris? People always ask me. I’m coming out with these live tapings. Not gonna lie, the ticket sales, kind of dog shit. So, hey, now you know about these shows. Go to ChrisGeth.com. Madison, Milwaukee, let’s step up. Want to see you guys at those live tapings. Want to see you at the stand up shows. Chicago, the sales are not sold out yet, but they’re pretty good. Less stressed about Chicago. I also have dates coming up later in the month in Atlanta, Georgia and Athens, Georgia. And you can find info on those at ChrisGeth.com as well. But for now, the main priority is, please, let’s sell some tickets in Madison and Milwaukee, because I don’t want to go to Wisconsin for the first time after 22 years to sit in a 1/10 of full theater and question every life choice I’ve ever made. So please help me out. Come on out to those live tapings and the stand up show and tell me where to get the good vegetarian food in your towns. Anyway, this week’s episode, very excited for you to hear this one. Straight up zookeeper. We got a former zookeeper. I’m able to talk about all the dumb questions you might want to ask a zookeeper. Also, I’m able to ask about the ethics of zoos in general, about what it’s like when Tiger King comes out and you work with big animals. It’s a fun one. It’s a fun one. And then because our show is our show, we also start to hear about the personal life beyond the zoo keeping. And that gets fascinating, too. It’s a nice, simple one. It’s a it’s a person I never I never thought I’d have an hour long conversation with a former zookeeper, but here we go. This is my life now. And also we got to pay these zookeepers, everybody. Gotta put some money in these zookeepers pockets. If we’re going to have zoos, let’s do it right. Pay the zookeepers. Anyway. ChrisGeth.com for all that ticket info. Enjoy our zookeeper friend. Thank you so much for calling and I can’t wait to talk to all you guys in the future. Enjoy the call.
Voicemail Robot [00:03:06] Thank you for calling Beautiful/ Anonymous. A beeping noise will indicate when you are on the show with the host.
Caller [00:03:14] Hello?
Chris [00:03:15] Hi.
Caller [00:03:17] Oh, hey. That was that was very quick.
Chris [00:03:22] Yeah. I mean, it’s a it’s a voicemail call, so we kind of we kind of surprise you. We just kind of ambushed you.
Caller [00:03:30] No, I almost I almost didn’t answer. I was like, what is happening?
Chris [00:03:35] Look at this. Now everything’s happening all at once. I haven’t heard the voicemail, by the way. I don’t know anything.
Caller [00:03:41] Okay.
Chris [00:03:43] Now, how are you?
Caller [00:03:45] I’m good. How are you?
Chris [00:03:48] I’m pretty good. I’m back in New Jersey. Feeling pretty good about that.
Caller [00:03:52] Well, that’s good. Well, since you haven’t heard the voicemail, I guess I can tell you what I left in the voicemail.
Chris [00:04:02] Okay.
Caller [00:04:04] So I was a zookeeper, or I worked in the zoo field for about seven years, and for five of those, I was a zookeeper. And then I moved into being a park ranger, so working for the state park system. So I figured you could ask any animal questions you had or any outdoor questions, I guess. So that was kind of my pitch.
Chris [00:04:35] I love it. I love it. What a cool thing. Did you study zoology in school?
Caller [00:04:43] I did not. I actually went to school for marine biology. So grew up loving the ocean, loving animals, and went to school for marine biology. And I took a conservation biology class. So that was my like, oh, so I want to protect wildlife. I want to save wildlife. I want to work with wildlife. And that’s how I got my foot in the door of my zoo career. But it wasn’t- getting into the zoo field is not easy. Everyone thinks it’s like, Oh, you just play with animals all day. But it’s a lot. It’s a lot more than that.
Chris [00:05:26] How so?
Caller [00:05:29] So being a zookeeper, you, graduating college, most zoo jobs, most zookeeper jobs, require you to have at least one year of experience. So how do you get experience? You have to do interning or volunteering. And a lot of those opportunities are unpaid just because they rely on the passion of the field for you kind of as like, Oh, well, I get to work with these really cool things. So then they kind of use that to get you into the field. But for that, and moving across the country to intern or volunteer at different zoos, and then there’s still not a guarantee. There’s a lot of people who want to work with animals, but not a lot of zoos in the in the US. I’m very fortunate that I live in a state that has quite a lot of zoos and quite a lot of AZA. So American or the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Zoos. So I had a lot of opportunities in my state to move around, but that’s not the case with everyone. So it took me, I guess, just over a year of interning and volunteering and working seasonal work or part time work to get a full time zookeeper position. So it makes the the transition really hard. It’s very competitive. Like I said, there’s lots of people who want to be want to work with animals and want to be zookeepers.
Chris [00:07:08] Everybody’s out here trying to be a zookeeper. Who knew?
Caller [00:07:12] Yeah.
Chris [00:07:13] In demand job.
Caller [00:07:13] Well yeah. Especially. Well, I guess especially before COVID. It was really that was the thing was that everyone wanted to be a zookeeper. So these zookeeper jobs were getting filled very quickly for very little pay for the experience and for having to have a bachelor’s degree. But with COVID, things have kind of changed because people, like with a lot of other industries, they realize that, well, I can make more money doing X, Y and Z. I can make more money, um, working for DoorDash. Um, so it’s been very interesting and there’s been a lot of resignation within this new field as well, that passion doesn’t pay the bills. So that’s part of the reason why I ended up leaving the zoo field. Not because I didn’t love it and not because I didn’t love the animals, but because that, yeah, passion doesn’t doesn’t pay your bills. And if you want to own a house someday or have a family someday, that it’s not really an attainable goal when you work in the as a zookeeper.
Chris [00:08:24] Had no idea that zookeepers were woefully underpaid. You’d think that those would be specialized jobs. You’d think get somebody who’s like dealing with like the zoo we take our son to in New Jersey, it’s actually in the town where I grew up. It’s much nicer these days. The Turtle Back Zoo, West Orange, New Jersey. It was real beaut up back in the eighties. They got it looking good now. But I mean, these are people dealing with actual wolves, like they’re feeding wolves. There’s real lions. There’s actual giraffes. You would think that those would be jobs that would pay a lot because there’d have to be some level of specialization to to do that. But you’re saying it’s actually the opposite. Everybody’s clamoring to work with the giraffes so the zookeepers get the short end of the stick.
Caller [00:09:07] Yeah. Yeah. So especially like you think of like your big like megafauna animals, like your marine mammals, but also like elephants and big cats, everybody wants to work with those animals. So people will literally do it for pennies. Like they will make a lot less than what their, what their, their worth is and what their training is. Because with those animals, you’re not you’re not able to go in the same space as them. There’s always a barrier between you and them, or at least there should be at least some sort of barrier. And it can be dangerous. And you have to have a lot of training and a lot of ability to train animals and not for like a trick or for a show, but to train them to go out onto their habitat every day to build that relationship. And it’s been kind of crazy with like ever since COVID, people are resigning and animals are not having built that foundation with a keeper who’s worked with them for ten years. And then you get newer staff in that has that’s very excited, but they’re not they’re not as trained and they’re not as like, well, the zookeepers aren’t as well informed. And so it makes it an interesting time for zookeepers as well. And there’s a lot of lobbying going on, different zoos. So I guess I can say there’s different different zoos. So you’ve got your accredited zoos, zoos that are AZA or the ZAA accredited, which means they go through a bunch of different uh, I can’t think of the word, there’s a lot of different regulations that go into these zoos even more than just like a zoo on the side of the street. Because especially in my state, anyone can own an exotic animal and call themselves a zoo. But to have that high quality of standard, you also want to have the best people being there as well to be able to take care of those animals.
Chris [00:11:19] Now, let’s talk about that since you brought it up. I was going to start with some of the lighter questions, but let’s start with that. Because well, because you brought up, there’s you know, I think it is state by state who can own exotic animals. You’re saying you live in a state where people can just display them and charge money and say they have a zoo. I may have, I mean, it’s been so many years on the show. I may have talked about this. I once was driving cross-country by myself and I was passing through Missouri. And I stopped. There was a sign, it was along like a stretch of what used to be Route 66. And it just said like live alligators, $5. And I was like, I need to stretch my legs. Let me go check out these alligators. These psychos had tigers in their backyard. They had a full grown lion in the backyard. They told me they’d had the lion since it was a cub. So they couldn’t let anybody in the cage because it was used to playing with humans as a cub and now it didn’t understand that it would just kill them. They let people who were with me at the zoo go in to feed the the tigers. Like they let them go into the entrance of the cage, like this guy and his kid. Like the dad was like, come on, you got to let me. Come on. And they just let him. I go, this is a disaster waiting to happen. This is sad for the animals. And I want to ask you about that, being someone who’s worked in zoos. You know, I think… I went vegetarian a few years ago, mostly for health reasons. But I think there is a there’s there are a lot of people in this world who think that zoos fundamentally are screwed up. Then you come to find out that a lot of them are so conservation focused. A lot of them lean into the idea that they take in injured animals that wouldn’t survive in the wild. You hear about that and you go, okay, so some of them do serve a function. But there’s a pretty wide range of what you can get out there, huh?
Caller [00:13:13] Yeah. Yeah, no, especially in my state there’s a lot of sanctuaries also. That’s a term that kind of gets thrown around. And there are actual sanctuaries that do take in people. Like I think about like Joe Exotic, like Tiger King, like all of those animals. They had to go somewhere when that zoo or the place, I guess it’s called a zoo. The place where he was that, where those animals, they had to go somewhere. But if you’re breeding animals or if you’re using them for a show or you’re charging people money to go in with them, then that’s probably not a sanctuary. Um, that’s something a little more not necessarily sinister, but something a little different. And then you get into your, like accredited zoos. So zoos that are conservation minded. So those AZA, ZAA zoos that are breeding animals but in order to keep them on our planet. So breeding endangered species, species that there are some species that are in AZA zoos that are extinct in the wild. So it really it is an interesting thing of kind of how zoos work out because a lot of people, like you said, they don’t know. They don’t know like, oh, is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? And it just depends on the facility and it depends on kind of what their mission is. If their mission is, oh, we’re conservation minded, we’re either giving money or supplies to these conservation organizations or were providing opportunities for research to study these animals, then that’s probably a pretty good place. But then there are other places that are like, Oh, for $10, you can go in and go in with our tigers and cuddle them and play with them. And oh, for another $10 you can take a picture and then another $10 you can feed them. Like all of those things, they don’t really add up.
Chris [00:15:16] That’s true scumbaggery. That’s true scumbag behavior right there, right?
Caller [00:15:20] Yes.
Chris [00:15:23] And let’s pause right there. Leave it to the Jersey guy to just drop the word scumbag out of nowhere. I feel bad that I said that. I mean, I think it’s accurate. But also, I’m like a caricature of somebody from New Jersey. That’s a scumbag right there. Anyway, I’ll also go and think about my behavior. You think about yours. We’ll do some ads. We’ll be right back. Thanks to all of our advertisers. Now let’s get back to the phone call.
Caller [00:15:51] If their mission is, oh, we’re conservation minded. We’re either giving money or supplies to these conservation organizations or we’re providing opportunities for research to study these animals, then that’s probably a pretty good place. But then there are other places that are like, Oh, for $10, you can go in and go in with our tigers and cuddle them and play with them. And oh, for another $10 you can take a picture and then another $10 you can feed them. Like all of those things, they don’t really add up.
Chris [00:16:24] That’s true scumbaggery. That’s true scumbag behavior right there. Right?
Caller [00:16:28] Yeah. Yeah.
Chris [00:16:29] So when you’re when you have worked closely with animals in the world of zoos, which you’ve seen people who, like you said, people put their passion into this, people sacrifice their lives, their time, their financial well-being to, to try to help animals. And you’ve been around people, I would imagine, by and large, good hearted people with the right goals, when America briefly becomes obsessed with this guy, Joe Exotic and all this Tiger King stuff, you must have been sitting there going, this guy is like the actual nightmare. He’s like the actual nightmare to someone who’s trying to do this the right way.
Caller [00:17:05] Yeah. Yeah. So when Tiger King came out, I was still at in the zoo field, but I had moved into zoo education. So I really like talking to people. That’s kind of why I moved into zoo education because I enjoyed, yes, I love taking care of the animals I take care of, but I also loved talking to the public and kind of educating and being that voice between if they weren’t if they didn’t know what was going on or they didn’t understand something, I was able to kind of bridge that gap. But we had to talk about Tiger King so much. And not necessarily being like, yes, not necessarily be like, Oh, Joe Exotic sucks or whatever. But it was more just educating people like, okay, yes, we all watched this documentary series, but this is- that’s not what we do here. You’re never, because we would always get asked, especially about our big cats.
Chris [00:18:07] Oh no!
Caller [00:18:07] Yes, we would. Yes, we would get asked. They’re like, oh, so when are you going to have a baby lion? When are you going to have a baby tiger? And I was like, well, it’s not it’s it’s not like that here. It’s not that easy because there’s things called a species survival plan or an SFP program that genetically batches and says- because I mean, really, like baby animals are super cute, but breeding them irresponsibly isn’t isn’t good for the overall well-being of those animals either. If you don’t have enough bedrooms for animals, then you don’t have enough space for them. Then where do they go? Type situation. So really having to educate people was super interesting. And especially talking to kids about it, because kids, maybe they didn’t necessarily watch the show with their parents. Some of them I did did, I’m sure. But just trying to, like, dispel the myth, because people would- kids would come to our zoo camp and they would think, oh, I’m going to get to hold like a baby animal or I’m going to get to touch a baby animal. And that’s not necessarily what we were doing or what we were trying to portray. So having to talk through that was very, very interesting. I got a lot of like comments on social media about it, and it was, it was fun. It was an interesting time.
Chris [00:19:38] I can tell that you’re like a very measured person, but there must have been days where you were, like, sitting in your head going like, This God damn mullet head is ruining my life. This God damn mullet head tied up in his weird murders, every jerk, every jerk who’s had two beers wants to show up and pet a tiger now. And I got to explain over and over again why you can’t touch a tiger.
Caller [00:20:07] Yes, exactly. And it’s not just Joe Exotic either. It’s like a lot of things that you see portrayed in the media. Like anytime that there’s an animal in a show or in a movie and it’s even portrayed as cute and cuddly or potentially like, oh, this looks like it could be a pet, we get we have to get into the talk about the the pet trade and why dogs and cats are okay to have as pets, but maybe you shouldn’t have a monkey as a pet. Or maybe you shouldn’t have a macaw as a pet if you’re not ready to keep that animal for its entire life and provide for it. And then even further down the line, why is it not okay to have a tiger as a pet? Sort of thing.
Chris [00:21:02] Yeah. Like unless you are a high level cocaine dealer, why do you why do you want a tiger as a pet? Unless you’re really moving weight.
Caller [00:21:10] Exactly. Right. Right.
Chris [00:21:11] So are you able- when you were in the zoo world, would you be like, oh, they must be they must be rerunning that one season of Friends because everybody wants to hold the monkey now. Goddamn Ross with his goddamn monkey. Whereas, you know, listen, you don’t have to do too much research. You can vouch for me on this. Would you ever voluntarily just hold a monkey? I wouldn’t.
Caller [00:21:34] No. No.
Chris [00:21:34] I know too much. Those creatures want us all dead. They all want us all dead. And they- I’ve watched shows. I once watched a show about chimp attacks, and I was, I was alone in a hotel room. I must have been traveling for standup. They are. They have fun. They have fun destroying you. They find it fun to destroy you. You can keep your monkeys away from me. I don’t need to hold that monkey. If I ever had to act- if I booked an acting job and they said, you’re going to have to deal with a monkey, I might turn down that job because those are dangerous beasts.
Caller [00:22:13] Yeah, it’s kind of funny because, so in the in the zoo world, I guess, you kind of get put into boxes. Oh, are you a carnivore person? Are you a bird person? Are you a reptile person? Or are you a primate person? Do you like working with primates? And primates are the one animal that I was like, like, if I had to pick, I would not choose to work in a section or with a group of animals that included primates. It’s their fingers. Their fingers and their intelligence. Because taking care of an animal that is that smart is kind of scary. Like an animal that is as intelligent as you are. And if you make one mistake, if you don’t lock that lock or you don’t shut that door all the way, that animal is smart enough and has the ability to open that door. So it’s kind of scary when it comes to being a zookeeper.
Chris [00:23:17] And now what is it about their fingers you don’t like?
Caller [00:23:21] I don’t know. It’s just-.
Chris [00:23:24] Too human? Too human?
Caller [00:23:26] Too human. Yes. But also, like lemurs, they like to touch you. They like to grab you, especially. That’s the thing with a lot of primates. They’re very tactile. So getting, even if you’re not their primary keeper, you don’t work with them enough, even getting too close to a fence where they can grab you, like that… No. I’m good. Primates can- the people who like to work with primates, they do a great job and they really understand them. To me, I would rather work with birds or hoofstock. So like I worked with hippos. And hippos are just they’re so cool. And I feel like-
Chris [00:24:10] Hippos are notoriously one of the most violent creatures on earth.
Caller [00:24:15] Yeah. Yeah, they can be.
Chris [00:24:18] You worked with hippos.
Caller [00:24:18] You know, they’re also big. They’re just big sweethearts. At least the hippos that I’ve worked with before. They, they wanted attention when they wanted attention, but they also, like, knew their boundaries. And you got to know their personalities. And the zoo I worked at, we had female hippos. We didn’t have any male hippos. So male hippos are more aggressive than female hippos. And our female hippos, they were just big scaredy cats of everything. Anything new in their habitat, if you put a new plant in there, they would not go near that plant for weeks. If there was even, like we always used to say, if there was a piece of paper on the ground, they would not step over that piece of paper because they just didn’t know what it was. They were very cautious.
Chris [00:25:16] Hippos. I wasn’t expecting that. So you were at a large zoo then, because not every zoo gets hippos.
Caller [00:25:23] Not every zoo gets hippos. So in my career, I worked at three different zoos. Yes, so hippos are interesting. But I really like like I think my favorite hoofstock that I worked with were actually white tailed deer, which seems very commonplace in North America. But they were they were just the best.
Chris [00:25:51] What makes deer so good? Because I live in northern New Jersey where deer are like beautiful animals, but you see them a lot and also a lot of car accidents and a lot of and I think a lot of people who view deer as something of a nuisance. Yet you say that deer were your favorites.
Caller [00:26:09] Yeah. In the facility I was at, we had two white tailed deer that had come in at different times being more of a rehab situation. So this is a PSA for everyone. If you see a baby deer or a fawn in in the woods and it’s just sitting there by itself, leave it alone. Don’t pick it up. Its mom is going to come right back for it. But a lot of times people being very well intentioned, they think that this baby deer was left all alone. So I’m going to pick it up and I’m going to take it to a rehab or to a zoo or something to be able to get it help, when in fact, it was probably perfectly fine. But now that you have picked it up and brought it somewhere else and you don’t remember where you got this baby deer from, now it has to have somewhere to live, right? Like it can’t survive on its own. It’s a tiny little baby.
Chris [00:27:08] So these well-intentioned people, they’re the villains. They’re like the villains in a Disney movie. They’re basically kidnappers. They basically are well-intentioned people who kidnap animals, separate them from their parents. And that’s the inciting incident in a movie that probably has some songs and great animation.
Caller [00:27:28] Exactly. So these two deer, they were hand-raised by keepers at our zoo. So they were very personable. They they love to come right up to the fence to you and just greet you every morning. And they were so excited to see you. And they also loved enrichment. So I’m not sure when you visit Turtle Back if you ever see any enrichment happening. But animals that live in zoos, they are there. They don’t necessarily have a choice whether they live there or not. But they are there and the zookeepers taking care of them want to provide them the best life possible. So they give them things called enrichment. So enrichment can be anything that is different from their day. So it can be things like different food items. It can be even where their food is located. If they get that in a bowl or it gets spread throughout the habitat. It can also be things like toys or lots of different things. But the deer were very curious and they loved to explore new things. So it made my job really fun being able to provide them new and exciting opportunities for foraging to figure out where they like to eat, to practice those natural behaviors, even though they were in like a controlled setting.
Chris [00:28:50] So deer, would you say these are the most underrated animal as far as the zoo experience goes?
Caller [00:28:57] I think for me. I think going into it, yeah, I never thought I would be super excited to see a white tailed deer every morning. But yeah, for me they were.
Chris [00:29:10] So deer. Very underrated. Now, listen, let’s get a little catty. Let’s get a little gossipy. What’s the most overrated animal? What’s the one everybody’s excited to see, and then when they come in, you just, you go, at the end of the day, this is an underwhelming experience because this animal is overrated.
Caller [00:29:29] This may make some people upset, but I definitely think your macrofauna, like your elephants and your big cats, people always want to see big cats doing something really cool, and a lot of times they’re just sleeping.
Chris [00:29:45] I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a zoo and seen a big cat awake. And it’s honestly made me angry every time. Again because it’s on me at this point. I fall for it every time. Here’s what I see is I see a big cat in the corner of a cage on the ground, totally prone. And I sit here and I go, I feel underwhelmed and I’m worried that that animal is not happy. And I feel sad. That’s my experience with cat exhibits at zoos is I’m like, these are animals meant to roam literal, endless plains, and I’m seeing them curled up in a corner of a cage in a zoo in New Jersey. It’s not a happy feeling. These big cats.
Caller [00:30:29] Yeah. Big cats do out of like second to primates, they probably get the most enrichment out of any animals in a zoo setting, at least from my experience. Because they do. They require those instincts, right? Those hunting instincts, the natural predatory instincts they have. So for their zookeepers, they’re constantly providing enrichment. But a lot of times from in my experience anyways, that the big cats, they just want to be lazy. Like they honestly could care less half of the time. And they’re just like, eh, I’m here.
Chris [00:31:10] Now enrichment, is this- because I have had the thought when I visited zoos where I go, okay, like… You do see some of these animals that are, you know, in the wild, they have like thousands of acres to roam. Like I think the Turtle Back Zoo, if I remember right, has a buffalo. I sit here, I go, if you put a buffalo in an area this small, for me, I go, I would go mentally insane. Is enrichment an effort to make sure that animals don’t mentally lose it?
Caller [00:31:41] Yeah. Yeah.
Chris [00:31:43] I’m glad that we’re worried about this. I’m glad that people are on top of that.
Caller [00:31:46] Yeah. Yeah. So enrichment and training and just creating those bonds is all to help animals stay happy and healthy in a controlled setting. Just like, like a dog or a cat. If you ignored them all day, and all you did was give them food and water, they might go insane. So everything needs a little bit of excitement in their life. So, yes, in an effort- there’s a big push with AZA zoos especially now, is something called animal welfare. So every single animal at your zoo should be evaluated on, not just once, not just once a year, but several times throughout the year, whether it’s a weekly or a monthly basis, to make sure that they’re being well cared for. And that includes their mental stimulation. Because zoos of the past were concrete boxes and it was just for ease of cleanup. But today, it’s it’s more about making sure that they’re mentally stimulated, that they’re healthy and in all ways.
Chris [00:33:04] And I’m going to ask, because now you studied marine biology and then you’ve worked in zoos. We’ve talked about how, you know, it’s I feel like a public service announcement alone, just hearing that you can look for was it ZAA or AZA certification and at that point you can probably trust, okay, this thing is this facility is holding itself to some standards that it can make you feel okay about spending your money here.
Caller [00:33:27] Yeah.
Chris [00:33:28] I do have to ask, especially as somebody who studied marine biology, just because I read a lot, I’ve read a couple of articles about, you know, humans relationship with killer whales, specifically you kind of like get them in captivity. There’s severe physical effects on them. And that’s an animal that sort of notoriously will go insane if you hold it in captivity. And, you know, the people who have worked with them as trainers, marine biologists in, you know, some of these facilities that are like, is it a zoo or is it a theme park? Let’s be honest here. People have gotten killed where these animals that have been docile their whole lives will all of a sudden flip out and a trainer that they know that’s in some cases that they’ve known for many years never had a problem with, people get killed. And it’s the type of story that makes me sit here and go, okay, when I bring my son to a zoo, can I feel okay about that? You know, we do bring him to the zoo and we try to trust that the ones we bring them to are places that are above board, that aren’t the places that are just like wackadoos. But I have to I have to wonder about your feelings on that, because it must be, I mean, heartbreaking, because you’re a human being and you’re in the industry. But you also must think about it from the animal’s perspective as well. And I wonder how you balance those thoughts.
Caller [00:34:55] Yeah. No, it’s it’s very interesting because kind of my marine biology journey was that I was very anti captivity, very I think I watched the movie The Cove, if you’ve ever seen it. It’s about the dolphin hunt that happens in Japan. And how dolphins are collected for theme parks, etc.. So I was very anti captivity. And as I, as I grew up and I got older and I went through more classes and had a little bit more life experience, I was like, okay, but there are places out there that are doing good things. And I think too that that’s where this animal welfare has come into, is that there have been incidents. And not only orcas or other marine mammals, but also terrestrial animals have done similar things to people. And so it’s a it’s a big topic in the zoo field. And I know with AZA accreditation, having to go through that recently at my own facility, um, there is a huge section just on marine mammals. Because it’s been so wildly debated on whether these animals should be in human care or not. Because orca whales are there are some populations that are endangered and are losing numbers very quickly, but there are other populations of orca whales that are doing just great in the wild. So should we keep these animals in human care if they’re doing just fine in the wild? If that’s our stance is conservation and protecting these animals for the future but and to keep them on our planet. But also being kind of the other side of it, when is the general public ever going to have a chance to see an orca whale in their life if they don’t see one at an aquarium or a facility? So it’s kind of both sides. And it’s really hard to like make that distinction because then once you get into marine mammals and you get into elephants and you get into big cats and it’s kind of it goes all the way down, like, what is the point of of zoos and of these facilities? So it gets to be, it gets to be kind of a tricky thing. And you kind of you have your your conflictions, but also at the end of the day, as a zookeeper, these animals are here. They’re in the facility. Regardless if you are the zookeeper or not, they are here and you’re going to do your best to take care of them and give them the best life that you can possibly give them while you’re at this facility and while you’re a zookeeper.
Chris [00:37:54] A lot of layers to this zoo thing, right? Profit. Who’s getting that money? Where’s it going? Are we really helping the animals? Lot to think about there. I bet our caller has thought about that backwards and forwards, and so much more. We’ll hear about all of it when we get back. Thanks to everyone who sponsors the show. Now let’s finish off the phone call.
Caller [00:38:19] Like what, what is the point of of zoos and of these facilities? So it gets to be it gets to be kind of a tricky thing. And you kind of you have your your conflictions, but also at the end of the day, as a zookeeper, these animals are here. They’re in this facility regardless if you are the zookeeper or not. They are here and you’re going to do your best to take care of them and give them the best life that you can possibly give them while you’re at this facility and while you’re a zookeeper.
Chris [00:38:54] It must be really hard. I have to imagine there must be some cynicism in the profession, too, for people to sign up and go, You know, I’m going to get in here, volunteer for a while, all to fight for one of these barely available jobs where I might need to move across the country to work for very little. And then the other side is, you know, you go and then certain animals, are we really helping this animal or is this the one that sells the most stuffed animals in the gift shop on the way out? I have to imagine there’s some people who get really cynical working in this field.
Caller [00:39:25] Yup. Yup. And that’s where that’s where you find those those little nuggets like the white tailed deer that greet you every morning. That kind of holds you in there for for a while. And there’s definitely change happening within the zoo field, like, even higher up in management. So there are there are zoos that are working to better their- not only the salaries of the zookeepers but the people who work in the gift shop, like, increasing those salaries because zoos do make money. They they make money and paying people what they’re worth. So it’s it’s just it’s it’s, like I said, it’s an interesting time.
Chris [00:40:09] Now, speaking of that, I had no idea that the the pay at zoos, it must be really piss poor because, look, I’m saying this facetiously, but there’s a lot of truth to it… You don’t hear about too many industries where people go, at a certain point, I just had to, uh, I just had to go work in the big bucks field of state park park ranger. You’re not hearing too many people go, I’m going to go rake in the cash working in a state park. It’s not a it’s not a- this is not exactly Wall Street. This is not like signing up for a hedge fund. So it’s really a condemnation of what zoos pay that you’re like, I decided to cash in on my skills. Park ranger. Another notorious not a not a job where you’re banking millions. Although.
Caller [00:40:58] No.
Chris [00:40:58] A job that is greatly romantic, I would imagine.
Caller [00:41:02] It’s very funny because now that I am, I still have a lot of ties to the zoo field. I actually volunteer at my facility where I used to work. And I have a lot of friends that are still there, and that’s partially why I volunteer, because they have so much on their plate and they they are literally like working for pennies and having to have so much expected out of them in their day that there’s not enough staff, not enough money. But so I’m still connected to that. But now that I’m in kind of like the state park system, I went to a training and it was so funny because I was with other people at my same job level and they were talking about, Yeah, like I wish we got paid more. And in my head I’m like, Oh my gosh, I’m making like four more dollars an hour than what I was at the zoo. I’m so excited.
Chris [00:41:58] Wow. So all these other park rangers are slumming it, and you’re out here like Scrooge McDuck. You’re out here like Scrooge McDuck diving into a pile of gold at the end of the night.
Caller [00:42:10] Yeah, it’s it’s so it’s it’s all about perspective and it’s where where you’ve kind of come from.
Chris [00:42:18] And can I ask you, you know, you don’t- you get specific to your comfort level, but what type of stuff do you do in the state park world?
Caller [00:42:27] So I am a park interpreter. So I don’t interpret languages. But my job is to interpret nature and to help people connect to nature. So my job working in zoo education kind of led me right up to this. Being able to talk to people about animals at the zoo and the plights they face and conservation in that sense is very transferable to this new position because now I’m just I’m talking about the wildlife of our park and the different plants and how you can help protect our lands and conserve water and all of those things. So I lead hikes and school groups and all sorts of programs. I manage volunteers and then I also run the social media for our park. So just any way that I can help connect people to nature so that then these wild places can be around for for a long time.
Chris [00:43:36] I love that. That sounds like a fun gig.
Caller [00:43:40] Yeah. It’s it’s really fun. It was very awkward coming from the zoo field because once you, people ask, oh, how did you become a park ranger? And then I kind of have to tell them, well, I was a zookeeper, etc., etc.. They want to know all about the zoo. And I was like, Yes. Like I can tell you everything about the zoo, but this is what I’m doing now. And the first time that someone called me Ranger my name, it was very awkward because I was like, Oh, Ranger, Ranger, that sounds very like official. And like, I’m doing something, like, respectable. And then the next day I went to the grocery store before going to work in my uniform, and this man thought I was going to arrest him because it looks, I guess, very similar to like a police officer uniform. Because it’s got a nice patch. I don’t have a badge or anything, but it does have a patch on the shoulder. And the gentleman was very afraid that I was going to arrest him. And I was like, no, I’m just, you know…
Chris [00:44:51] So you might have encountered some sort of career criminal.
Caller [00:44:55] Yes. Yes.
Chris [00:44:57] Someone who had definitely been committing crimes if they just instantly assumed you were there to arrest them.
Caller [00:45:02] Yes. Yes, it was it was very interesting. So life of a park ranger, I guess.
Chris [00:45:09] Now, listen, I’m not trying to be too divisive, but I have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder about park rangers.
Caller [00:45:16] Okay.
Chris [00:45:16] Due to some personal trauma, but I have a little bit of a bias. But you’re turning me around because you seem very nice, but I, I tell you, I went- and now this was a national park. I don’t know if these national park rangers, you know, think they’re God’s gift or whatever, if they’re arrogant people. But I went to the big island of Hawaii for my honeymoon and we went to Volcanoes National Park. Amazing, amazing place. I mean, the big island in general- Hawaii in general, let alone the big island, which is very nature driven, let alone this Volcanoes National Park. There’s a there’s an erupting volcano that you can see in the distance from the welcome center. Like you see. You go at night. You see this red glow in the distance. It’s amazing. And we spent a few days in this area and we went on a guided walking tour with someone who sounds like they’re kind of the Volcanoes National Park version of what you do. I don’t know if they are officially termed a park interpreter, but they took us on this tour and they were pointing out different things about different trees and oh, and look, here’s here’s areas where the growth of something is stunted because of all the volcanic ash in the soil and the air and all this stuff. And it’s fascinating. And then at one point, he told us this story about how native Hawaiians used to live at this one area. And it was this very long story about this warrior that represented to this group of indigenous Hawaiians who were from here. And he used to play a flute to let everybody know when he’d come back from battle safely. And the Ranger had a flute and brought out this like traditional flute, this Hawaiian instrument of some sort, and started playing it. And then he said, For no reason, I’d been nothing but attentive this entire time. He goes, Now there was an unintended side effect, which was the flute was meant to let everybody know that he was safe. But women were so struck by this man’s abilities as a warrior and his aura that he gave off, that they’d hear the flute and they’d just drop what they were doing and they’d come and they’d they’d like, proposition him and throw themselves at him. And he goes, No one has ever had this, like, dizzying sexual effect on women before or since. And then out of nowhere, he points at me and goes, Except maybe this guy. On my honeymoon.
Caller [00:47:39] But you remember that, right?
Chris [00:47:42] You’re defending this guy? You’re really going to go-.
Caller [00:47:46] Not necessarily!
Chris [00:47:47] You’re really going to go- park rangers got to stick together on this? You’re really going to say this guy had- he mocks me on my honeymoon in front of my new wife and an entire tour. In front of an entire tour group. And everybody chuckled, ha ha ha. Look at the sad, pale nerd in Hawaii. Look at the sad, pale man.
Caller [00:48:06] I don’t know that he, I’m sorry, other side, like devil’s advocate, I guess. He was probably just picking out anyone. Because when I lead tours, I don’t necessarily pick on one person, but we do a program that is, we call it a hike, but it is very, very short. It is like the shortest hike you could ever imagine. And then we get to our destination, kind of like the really cool point, and I’m like, Well, congratulations on completing this super arduous, like, treacherous hike. Like, congratulations, give yourself a pat on the back. And everyone starts laughing. And so maybe he was just trying to make a joke.
Chris [00:48:50] Okay.
Caller [00:48:50] I don’t know.
Chris [00:48:51] I’m just saying, you know, to make your whole thing around this, like, ultra masculine warrior and then it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that you would point to me if the if the joke is also this guy is that masculine as well. I’m just standing there in my little shorts, like, what did I ever do to you, Ranger Rick? I’ll take you out. I’ll take you out, dude. You clearly don’t know that you’re messing with somebody from New Jersey right now, and we’re all psychos. I can’t believe that your immediate instinct was, I got to I got to I got to get my fellow ranger’s back on this. That’s really revealing. I thought I liked you. I thought you were just like a gentle. I thought you were just a gentle zookeeper who loved deer and hippos. But it turns out you’re a dastardly park ranger, just like that guy in Hawaii. And I hope he hears this someday. I hope someone on the staff at Volcanoes National Park, I bet they’re all going to hear it and they’re all going to go. That’s Barry, or whatever his name was. I don’t know if it was. That, that had to be Barry or that had to be Hank. Hank’s always crossing the line. Hank’s always going off book. He’s always going off the rails, man. He- Hank never knows when when enough is enough. He’s a renegade park ranger, and you’re far from the only person he’s burned along the way. Pun intended, because we are a volcano driven park. Yes, your thought is what?
Caller [00:50:12] But but you also remember that story and you felt a connection to that story.
Chris [00:50:19] I cannot believe that that was your reaction. I don’t know if I’ve ever been madder at a caller on Beautiful/ Anonymous than when you reacted with, well, you remembered it.
Caller [00:50:27] Oh, no!
Chris [00:50:28] I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more like someone was out to get me than I am with you right now. No, I’m just kidding. You seem very nice.
Caller [00:50:35] Okay. Okay. I was like, Oh, no.
Chris [00:50:38] No, you seem extremely nice. But it is funny that, you’re like, no, look, it worked. It was memorable. You remembered the story.
Caller [00:50:45] Yeah.
Chris [00:50:45] Here I am telling it on my podcast where everybody’s going to hear it. Okay, maybe this guy has won. Maybe he’s still winning. Maybe he was playing chess the whole time I was playing checkers.
Caller [00:50:55] He just is a really good storyteller. And that’s like park interpretation. The whole interpretation in general is just storytelling. So at the end of the day, you want people to connect in their heart with whatever you’re telling them about, whether it’s tigers or it’s the story in Volcanoes National Park. Like you want to make sure that they connect with it in their heart and that they feel it and they remember it. So then they want to protect it and save it and keep it around.
Chris [00:51:28] Or you can fill a person with such a mixture of insecurity and rage that they never forget it, that it lives deep in their guts. And it’s this mixture of anger and shame. That works too, apparently.
Caller [00:51:42] Oh no.
Chris [00:51:42] No, it’s okay. So does working at the zoo, because park ranger position’s also very hard to get. I have a friend who works in the national park system and has broken it down and it’s really hard and at least on the national level, also kind of surprisingly political as far as people getting those jobs is what I hear.
Caller [00:52:03] Yep. It’s it’s a lot about who you know, which is kind of a bummer. But so I did, while I was still at the zoo, and before I got into the education, I was visiting state parks a lot. And there’s this program… I’m like, how much do I want to reveal? There’s a program geared towards young adults and getting them into state parks. Because a lot of people who visit state parks are either retirees or families. So those like 18 to 30 year olds aren’t like, Yeah, we’re going to go to the state park. So there’s a program in my state that is specifically geared to getting those 18 to 30 year olds in state parks. And it’s a volunteer opportunity, and they match you with a state park. And so for six months, you’re a volunteer for that specific state park, and you help out with outreach or hands on service projects, like, pretty much everything in the park. And you get a good view of the park system and kind of what’s out there. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who’s interested in working in a park, but just someone who likes the outdoors. So I was able to make connections through that program, which then allowed me to have really good references and really good advice for interviewing for the position that I did end up ultimately getting. But it it’s definitely who you know. And I’ve heard things about like back in the day it was a big boy’s club and it was really hard for women or minorities to get jobs in parks, especially state, state parks. I’m sure national parks, too. But they’re starting to phase that out. They want more diversity in state parks. But so if your staff is all one way, how are you going to make parks open to everyone if people don’t feel welcome? So I think I think it’s hopefully turning for the better to increase diversity and engagement in state parks. Or at least in our state’s parks.
Chris [00:54:31] It’s pretty cool that you nailed that one.
Caller [00:54:34] Yeah.
Chris [00:54:36] I love it. I feel like in Jersey State Parks are, I don’t know. I get the sense that there’s a bunch of them- I guess I guess it’s one that have beaches just kind of become places where people are like, you can go and get a campsite and kind of like barbecue and party. And there are young people ones, but a lot of them, you’re right. Not so much. It’s like RV’s in the parking lot and then school groups. Right?
Caller [00:55:01] Yep. Yep. Even though the part that I’m at is, is a beach park, which is really cool because then I get to go back to my marine biology roots and remember all of those things that I learned in school. But it’s it’s still like people are going there for the beach. But for my park, there’s a whole other half of the park that is coastal prairie and then getting into marsh and wetlands. So getting people to those other sides of my park is is kind of my goal. And that was one of the questions they asked in my interview was, how are you going to get people from the beach, from our most popular areas, to the rest of the park that- they paid money to come in this park, but how do they get to the other side and experience I always say like the nature side of the park. Because yes, the beach is nature, but you aren’t necessarily going there to look at all the cool wildlife. You’re going there to lay on the beach and be in the sun and have a good time.
Chris [00:56:15] Pretty sweet. Are you? You know, we’ve we’ve, uh, we’ve talked so much about your relationship with animals and your relationship with nature. We talked about all these things and I have not even had a moment to ask you about your relationship with humans.
Caller [00:56:30] Oh, okay.
Chris [00:56:33] How you feeling about human beings?
Caller [00:56:36] Yeah. I mean, humans are okay. Some of them are garbage. But like in general.
Chris [00:56:44] Do you prefer animals to humans in general?
Caller [00:56:48] Um. Not necessarily. Yeah. I mean, I feel like being in the education slash interpretive side of it, you deal with humans a lot. So I feel you get to see all sides of people, like people that really get what you’re doing and then the people that don’t. So, yes, people are okay. There’s there’s some good people, there’s some not good people. And. Yeah. I guess they’re just okay.
Chris [00:57:22] Wow. You had so much more to say about white tailed deer than humans. Like, significantly more. If we went back and timed it, probably four times the length you dedicated to white tailed deer than you did human beings.
Caller [00:57:37] Than humans. Yeah.
Chris [00:57:42] And far more complimentary to the deer.
Caller [00:57:45] Yeah. Um. I didn’t even mention it. I feel like everyone kind of talks about their their personal lives a little bit. But I am married. I married my high school sweetheart. We started dating when I was 14. So a little baby.
Chris [00:58:03] Whoa.
Caller [00:58:03] And then. Yeah, and then like ten years later, we got married.
Chris [00:58:09] And you dated the whole time?
Caller [00:58:11] Yep. Yep.
Chris [00:58:14] So you were like actual kids when you got together.
Caller [00:58:17] Yeah. Yep.
Chris [00:58:20] Wow.
Caller [00:58:20] So. It makes life interesting. So growing up, like literally growing up together and figuring out all those life things together. And then with with leaving the zoo field, I had to move to a different part of my state. So my husband still works in the town where, where my, the last zoo I worked at was. And he’s still there. So we’ve been doing like this weird, like, back and forth like commute visit type situation until he can get a job here where my park is.
Chris [00:59:06] And can I ask, how old are you now?
Caller [00:59:10] Twenty-eight.
Chris [00:59:11] Twenty-eight. So you’ve been together half your life.
Caller [00:59:15] Half of my life. Yup.
Chris [00:59:18] Wow.
Caller [00:59:22] So he’s he’s definitely one of the reasons that I was able to do those volunteer internships and getting paid so little, because he was able to help support me and help bridge those gaps and fill in those those areas where, when you’re not making a lot of money on your own, he was definitely a good support system for that. A lot of people struggle in the zoo field by not having that. So a lot of people are roommate situations or they have wealthy parents or a significant other to help support them through that. So I’m really thankful. But definitely excited to like be making like a livable wage so that then we can do those things, buy a house, have a family, maybe in the future, I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not so keen on humans, so. Maybe. Maybe no little human. We do. We do have. We have two dogs and three cats because animal lover, so any kind of stray that comes up ends up in our house.
Chris [01:00:45] Wow. I tell you.
Caller [01:00:47] At least for a little bit.
Chris [01:00:48] The little humans, they’re annoying, but they say stuff every once in a while that’s just abs- my kid said, like, I’ve had him- I was in Scotland for a month, then my wife went on vacation for a week because she was like, you know, she had him for a few weeks. There was some crossover where they came and met me, but she was like, I need a break. I said, okay. So she stayed in Europe, went to Portugal with her friend. I was home alone with Cal for a week and it was hard and it was long. He’s got opinions. But this kid said something yesterday that I’m telling you, I go, for as hard as being a parent is, for as much as he’s been making noise this entire taping, he’s literally banging drums right now. I don’t know if you can hear it faintly in the background.
Caller [01:01:31] I can’t hear it.
Chris [01:01:33] It’s driving me- the amount of noise this child generates any time I have to work, it’s maddening. But then yesterday, at his first day at a new preschool, and he was nervous. And he said, well, I don’t know if the kids are going to be nice. So I said, he’s got to go up to ’em and say, you go, Hi, my name’s Cal. What’s your name? And then if they tell you, that means that they’re nice kids, too. You’ll start to get to know them that way. And I said, You know, the most important thing is if you want them to be nice, you’ve got to be nice because you’re a really nice boy. You’re a nice kid, so you just be nice and then you’ll find out who else is nice. So he gets back from school and I go, Did you say, what did you say to the kids? And he said, Well, I went up to the kids and I said, Hi, my name’s Cal. What’s your name? And I said, What did they say to you? And this child’s response was, They said, Who’s that cool, handsome guy who knows how to swim under water? The child looked me in the eye and claimed that that’s what was said to him at his preschool. And I said, It’s all worth it. All of this is worth it. Who’s this cool, handsome guy that knows how to swim underwater? As if word had spread through the preschool aged children of our town. Hey, there’s this guy swimming under water, and he’s real cool and real handsome. I couldn’t believe it. So I like the little humans. And I get the sense you’d be good at it. You’ve thought a lot. And you, I bet you know how animals tick. I bet kids would- I bet kids would not be able to play so many mind games on you because you’re like, I’ve dealt with hippos. I know how to read a human child. This is easier, right? It’s easier to decipher a child’s mind games than a primate’s mind games or a hippo’s mind games.
Caller [01:03:08] Yeah, you would hope so. Yeah, definitely had some really funny kids in school programs or especially that come to like my little like scheduled programs that I do for the park. There’s one kid he tells his aunt all the time, like, Can we go to the park? I want to see Ranger my name, and he calls me Ranger Danger. And his aunt said that it’s from some TV show or something. So I was at the library in the town that my park is in, and he saw me at the library and came running up in yelling, Ranger danger, Ranger Danger! And I was just like, You are a cool kid. Thank you for coming to my- Hmm?
Chris [01:03:57] You’re like a celebrity to this kid.
Caller [01:03:59] I know it’s it’s fun. So I’m either like, somebody’s going to arrest somebody or I’m a celebrity. I don’t know.
Chris [01:04:08] I love it. I love it. Sorry I went on that long tangent and kind of shoehorned in that thing about my kid, but you said little humans. And I said, Well, I got a story about one of those. We have less than a minute left. I got to say, you filled me in. The zoo. I’ve always wondered what it’s like at the zoo. My mind is blown that those people are making no money across the board. That’s shocking right there. But anyway, I’ll stop talking. 30 seconds left. What would you like to end this episode with?
Caller [01:04:37] So I did want to mention something. I love that you are volunteering with your local ambulance service because both of my parents are paramedics, which I think is really cool that you’re getting to see that side of things. And you’ll be able to share all the cautionary tales with Cal, just like how I got cautionary tales like don’t ride a jet ski or stay off motorcycles and things like that.
Chris [01:05:01] Absolutely. And I’ll tell you what too. You and to talk about another group of people that is shockingly underpaid, it’s paramedics. I looked into that. I was like, oh, I’m really liking the ambulance squad. I wonder if I someday have a secret career or second career if I become a paramedic. I was like, No, you can’t live. You can’t pay your bills.
Caller [01:05:19] Nope.
Chris [01:05:19] Shockingly, for what they are asked to do, a unforgivably underpaid profession. Paramedics. So all the paramedics out there, we got your back.
Caller [01:05:30] Yep. Yeah. Paramedics are cool. So thanks, Chris. I’m glad that you learned some new things and I was able to share.
Chris [01:05:38] Absolutely did. I’ll never think of deer the same way again. Thank you for calling and filling us in on all this on all this great stuff.
Caller [01:05:46] Awesome. Well, have a good rest your day. Enjoy the drumming.
Chris [01:05:50] Yeah, this kid needs to pipe down. Anyway. Thank you. Caller, sincerely, thank you so much. I learned so much about zoos and state parks and animals and conservation and how to figure out where the good zoos are and why the bad zoos are bad. And I thank you so much for calling us up, fulling us in on all of it. The show is produced by Anita Flores. It’s engineered by Ryan Conner. Theme song is by ShellShag. Go to ChrisGeth.com if you want to know more about me. And hey, wherever you’re listening, hit subscribe, favorite, follow. It really helps us when you do. You can find our latest merch at Podswag.com. There’s mugs and shirts and posters and stuff. Plus, if you want your episodes ad free, you’re gonna want to sign up at Stitcher Premium. Use the promo code “stories” for a one month free trial at Stitcher.com/premium.