A day in the life... of a reptile keeper. Part I

By Jessa Franck, Zookeeper

7:30am – I get to work, put on my gear, and attend a morning meeting. After the meeting, I gather up a big bag of produce to haul up to the Reptile House. I stop by the spur-thighed tortoise yard in front of the giraffes. In the tortoise house, I record the temperature high and low. Then I do a quick cleaning of the yards and turn on the sprinklers. You might have wondered why we have two yards each with two tortoises. The big guys like to push the smaller ones around. It’s not a fair fight when one guy weighs 75 pounds and the other is closer to 20 pounds!

8:00am – I arrive at the Reptile House. I take a clipboard and walk through the hallway accounting for every animal and making notes about each exhibit, such as leftover food, feces, and pool cleaning. Then I have to remove the countless fingerprints and smudges from the windows. Guests sure like to get close to the animals! I also push a big broom over the floor and mop up sticky spots. Any other place in the Zoo a spilled drink would go unnoticed, but not on the hallway floor of the Reptile House where it invariably gets tracked all over. Please do not bring food or drinks inside!

8:30am – The food processor gets pulled out. I run 3 carrots, a large yam, 3 broccoli stalks, and a large beet through the machine. Then I hand chop two bunches of various greens, usually dandelion and chard or collard. If you have a pet reptile at home, you know you have to use fancy greens because things like iceberg lettuce have very little nutritional value. Also, we don’t use spinach because it has high levels of calcium that can build up in reptiles’ systems. The 15 pound rhino iguana gets her diet cut up separately because she can handle bigger pieces than someone like the 2 ounce Yucatan club-tailed iguana. Certain animals also get fruit in their diet. Our fruit mix includes 2 bananas, 2 oranges, 2 apples, and 10 grapes. Sometimes we add special things to the animals’ diets like melon, mushrooms, papaya, and kiwi.

9:00am – I spend time at each enclosure. A lot of the animals need to be misted. This activity increases the humidity in the exhibit and some animals, like the prehensile-tailed skink, even drink directly from the hose. About half of the building is set up with automatic misters and we’re working on adding more. I also change all the water dishes and clean pools as needed. I feed out the produce or insects and earthworms depending on the day.

10:00am – I take a short break and usually go to Kampala for a soda. On the way back to the Reptile House, I scan Lake Victoria for Western pond turtles (Clemmys marmorata). This species of turtle is the only one native to California and we have a thriving wild population at the zoo!

10:15am – I continue to make my way around the Reptile House, feeding and cleaning exhibits. We also have some animals in off-exhibit holding. Some are there for medical reasons, some for breeding, and some just because we have a lot of them and they don’t get along well enough to be on exhibit together.

12:00pm – It’s lunch time!

Check back soon for Part II- afternoon feedings and more creepy-crawlies!
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