Keeper for a Day at the Kansas City Zoo
Playing with cute, cuddly, sometimes wild animals is one of those dream jobs for kids on par with astronauts, firefighters, and ballerinas. Yet, few know what zookeeping actually entails. We recently participated in the Kansas City Zoo’s Keeper for a Day program (Mini program for ages 7-12 and Junior program for ages 13-17, and an adult program for 18+) and it was truly an outstanding educational experience. After our day, our respect for the zoo and the workers there was even greater. The love and care the animals receive is truly top-notch and the job is more than we imagined.
Each Keeper for a Day program includes a variety of activities including helping prepare food for animals, cleaning habitats, creating enrichment for animals and behind the scenes experiences. The activities for the program vary from day to day, so you may choose to attend more than one program for more experiences.
The girls spent their day with Alex Council, a member of the Kansas City Zoo’s educational team, as our guide. He explained the various careers at the zoo and the distinction in the various roles. For instance, his job involves teaching the public about animals and conservation. A zookeeper is more involved in working directly with the animals.
The girls started the day riding a golf-cart through the zoo and to the Learning Department, home to a variety of animals used for educational programs at local libraries, schools, and the Kansas City Zoo itself. Snakes, reptiles, frogs, insects, birds, porcupines, chinchillas, and singing dogs were just some of the animals they learned about and saw. Each animal receives the care it needs. For instance, a radiated tortoise, Walter, was provided “custom wheels” to help support his body and keep it above ground after an injury. The girls were given the chance to make enrichment toys for the parrots, and learn details about several of the animals.
Next, the girls enjoyed going behind the scenes with the penguins and into the exhibit where they observed the keepers feeding the Humboldt penguins and helped document what they ate. The penguins all clamor for their food, sometimes stealing it from one another, and the keepers have to watch carefully to track that each one gets the food that it needs and that they are healthy. They have to know each and every penguin by name in order to track their diet and physical needs.
After feeding penguins, they headed to Australia, where Zookeeper Jason gave them a tour of the facility, learning about some of the Kansas City Zoo’s conservation work The KC Zoo has been vital in a program to help breed Wyoming Toads and bring them out of extinction. We learned that many zookeepers are involved in special projects to care for animal species. They were very impressed to learn how much work is done behind the scenes to really benefit animals. Also, while “in the outback” the girls helped weigh food for kangaroos and wallabies, make enrichment toys for orangutans, and feed emus.
Next, they headed to the Kansas City Zoo’s commissary where food is prepared for animals throughout the Kansas City Zoo. A tour of the “zoo kitchen” included a peek inside the giant walk-in fridge and freezer where the zoo keeps fresh produce and frozen fish and mice to feed animals. The pantry is home to giant bags of animal chow. Every animal’s diet is strictly followed, the girls learned as they made meals for each gorilla individually and measured the fruits, veggies, and starches precisely.
After a human lunch break, they headed to Stingray Bay to feed the stingrays. Then, they watched as snakes were fed in the snake house, and finally headed back to the learning department where they prepared for their public presentation of the bearded dragon and Madagascar hissing cockroaches. The girls were taught about these animals and helped show them to the public, answering questions and showing children how to properly pet the animals.
The Keeper for a Day program is one of the best educational programs at the Kansas City Zoo and it truly offers one-of-a-kind animal experiences enhancing your appreciation for the animals, the zoo, and the zookeepers.
Some of the Highlights of Our Day:
Beginning of the day with exhibits.
Happy GoKart Passengers
Behind the scenes in the Zoo Learning Department
Zoo's Learning Animals - Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches
A Zoo Learning Animal - one of the reptiles
Another zoo learning animal - Bearded dragon
One of the Zoo's Learning Animals - a Chinchilla
A turtle with wheels (his own mobility aid) in the Learning Department
Helping keepers track the penguin feeding.
Behind the scenes with penguins
Behind the Scenes in Australia
Wyoming Toad project behind the scenes.
Making enrichment toys for orangutans - torn food bags
Weighing kangaroo food
Zoo Kitchen - animal food galore
Inside the zoo kitchen
Preparing Gorilla Food
Prepping gorilla food
Weighing gorilla food prep in the zoo kitchen
Making toys for the birds out of recycled materials.
The girls made toys for the birds out of recycled materials.
Grande Finale - Sharing Learning Animals with Visitors