Riverside Discovery Center will mark Zoo Keeper Week with fun activities

July 16, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — Staff at Riverside Discovery Center are in for an fun week as they participate in a variety of activities to celebrate Zoo Keeper Week.

Each year, the American Association of Zoo Keepers celebrates the hard work of the staff who look after the animals in zoos and aquariums. This year’s theme is teamwork and Riverside Discovery Center is taking that to the extreme. Zookeeper interns are including everyone who works at the zoo in a fun-filled week of team challenges among the entire staff.

Each member of staff is assigned a team and will have a list of tasks to complete each day.

There will be awards for the best selfie, competitions in the splash pad, a Facebook live charades challenge, scavenger hunt and more. Education Curator Alex Henwood said she may have went overboard this year, but she is proud of the team at the zoo and wants to give them a memorable week.

Interns Jude Al-Mutlaq and Jack Hilgert helped plan the week’s events without most of the staff knowing what was going to happen. When they arrive at work on Sunday, July 15, everyone will receive a packet of things that are going on during the week. There will also be a day where they will receive doughnuts and another with pizza.

Throughout the week, each staff member will receive hats with their names on them. As they participate in activities, they will receive different badges to place on their hat. Whoever has the best hat at the end of the week will also receive a prize.

Though Zoo Keeper Week is aimed at keepers, Al-Mutlaq and Hilgert recognized the importance of having the entire staff involved. The life and blood of a zoo is the keeper and their staff because they are what keep things going, Hilgert said.

“Alice and Danny (Lara, maintenance) are essential to what goes on here,” Al-Mutlaq said. “And the public doesn’t see everything going on and what the keepers are doing behind the scenes.”

Hilgert said it was nice to have a week to recognize how much everyone cares for the animals at the zoo.

“Anthony (Mason, zoo director) and Alex (Henwood) sacrifice a lot of time because this is not a 9-to-5 job,” he said. “It’s good to recognize them and all the staff who take care of the animals and accomplish the zoo’s mission.”

Al-Mutlaq said the recognition is nice, but she also likes that staff show each other how much they are appreciated every day.

“In small zoos, everyone is one big family,” Henwood said.

One of the biggest misconceptions about zookeepers is that they just play with the animals all day. Keepers clean the animals’ enclosures, provide enrichment, make sure they are healthy and teach about conservation.

The animals help make a connection to the public about their lives, their habitats and how endangered they may be, Hilgert said.

“We know these interactions will last longer and have a bigger impact than a documentary,” he said. “It helps not only in changing people’s minds, but their hearts about animals.”

Henwood said thanks to the education and work of keepers, zoos have helped animals, such as the golden frog, return to its native habitat. At zoos, you see a glimmer of hope, Hilgert said.

“Zoo Keeper Week celebrates the entire staff, what we do and what we can do,” he said.

Head zookeeper Nancee Hutchinson said National Zoo Keeper Week is a time to recognize the hard work keepers put in all year long.

“It can sometimes be a thankless job,” Hutchinson said. “They don’t have weekends and things like this are nice for them to know they are appreciated for all the hard work they do.”

The animals can’t say thank you, but on your next trip to the zoo, you can thank a keeper.

Zoo Keeper Week is July 15-22.

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