Shane Good, Animal Keeper at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Shane Good is a passionate animal keeper for 19 years. He works at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, USA in what is called Australian Adventure. He was president of the International Congress of Zookeepers (ICZ) from 2005 till 2011 and is president of the American Association of Zoo Keepers from 2007 to present.
Shane kindly accepted to answer questions about the life as a keeper, the challenges and risks involved in caring for wild animals and how regional and global associations can help him in his mission.
WAZA: What is your exact role at your Zoo?
Shane: I am an Animal Keeper in Australian Adventure at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, USA.
WAZA: Why did you become a zookeeper?
Shane: I'm actually the son of a zoo keeper, so zoos have always been a part of my life. I would help my father feed the ducks and geese on our zoo's Waterfowl Lake and have pictures of me as a small child handing out treats to various animals throughout the zoo. I began working as a seasonal keeper at our Children's Farm while I was in college and have been a full-time keeper for almost twenty years.
WAZA: According to you, what are the personal characteristics required for someone to be successful as a zookeeper?
Shane: A successful keeper in a modern zoo needs a multitude of characteristics and skills. First, they need a good work ethic, observational skills, the ability to multi-task, and work with limited supervision. They need to be willing to work in changing environments that can be hot or cold, wet, dusty, even dangerous. They must possess a scientific background with the ability to perform research, conservation and other complex tasks, yet have the desire to embrace the traditional duties of a keeper's job such as cleaning stalls, feeding, and maintaining exhibits. A common misconception about zookeeping is that it is a profession for animal -oriented people, those who don't get along with people. However, a keeper deals with many people on a daily basis including co-workers, managers, zoo visitors, zoo society members, etc, and therefore inter-personal skills are a very important characteristic.
WAZA: Can you take us through a typical day of your working life?
Shane: Mornings are always the most hectic part of the day as I try to get as much accomplished as possible before the zoo opens to the public. The day begins with checking on my animals and exhibits, giving out morning feedings, and preparing exhibits for the day ahead. Any medications need to be given, sometimes multiple times per day. If an animal needs veterinary care, I may need to take it to the vet hospital or assist the vet if he comes to my area. Training, enrichment, and exhibit maintenance are priorities. My area includes numerous reptiles and amphibians, so maintaining life-support systems for those species is a priority. Once the animal care priorities are accomplished, the day may include department meetings, educational presentations to the public, data collection for the Conservation & Science Department, pest control, and a multitude of other tasks. I have numerous interns that pass through my area so providing them instruction and supervision is an important part of the job. One thing that always seems to surprise people is how much paperwork and data a zoo keeper maintains. This may include daily keeper reports, training logs, enrichment charts, temperature data, animal data transfer forms, medication logs, and animal behaviour information, just to name a few.
WAZA: What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
Shane: I think most keepers would agree that the best part about their job is the daily interaction they have with their animals. There aren't many professions in the world that allow you daily interaction with some of the world's most unique and endangered wildlife. To get to know these animals on an individual, even personal basis, and make a positive difference in their lives is an extraordinary thing. On the flip side, most of these animals have much shorter life spans than we do, so we end up losing most of the animals with which we have developed a bond.
WAZA: What is the biggest challenge you had to face as a zookeeper?
Shane: The biggest challenge in my career was serving as the President of the International Congress of Zoo Keepers (ICZ). The ICZ is a collaboration of the world's nine professional zoo keeper associations. We started the ICZ in 2000 and today it represents over 6000 zoo keepers from over 30 countries. However, that success did not come without challenges, which included many financial, cultural, and language barriers that we were able to work through. It is still a work in progress, but we are very proud of the success we have had so far.
WAZA: Would you say that your job is a risky one?
Shane: Yes, the zoo keeping profession certainly is a risky one. One might immediately think of the things that grab media headlines like animal escapes, venomous animals, zoonotic diseases, diving with dangerous animals, and animal bites. However, risky also includes the things the media may not find as sensational. Hearing loss from screaming cockatoos, lung damage from 30 years of barn dust and bleach fumes, ladder falls, knife cuts, and the arthritis that is the toll paid for a long career in zoo keeping. Not that I personally have suffered all of the above, but I know keepers who have. Zoo keeping is a profession that puts a lot of wear and tear on the body.
WAZA: In your daily work do you feel you have enough interaction with visitors? And do you manage to convey conservation messages?
Shane: I consider myself a frontline educator. Research has shown that many zoo visitors prefer hearing their conservation messages from zoo keepers and find those messages most credible. They recognize a keeper's personal connection to the animals under their care and that connection carries credibility. I take that responsibility seriously and try to find time every day to meet with zoo visitors. I have worked extensively with Polar Bears International and often educate visitors about polar bears, the Arctic, and climate change.
WAZA: Do you think zookeepers are well recognised? What is, according to you, the biggest misconception people have about zoo keeping?
Shane: I think that within the zoo industry, zoo keepers are not recognized as well as they should be. The greatest misconception is that they do not have something to offer to the decision makers of the industry. To give an example, much has been discussed within WAZA and the regional zoo associations about the sustainability of our animal populations. However, despite the fact that zoo keepers are the ones who spend more time with these animals than any other classification of zoo employee, none of the professional zoo keeper associations have been recruited to assist. In many parts of the world, zoo keepers are highly educated, skilled, and eager to assist. In short, in many of your zoos, keepers are your greatest untapped resource.
WAZA: Would you say that you get enough information/support from your regional association and from WAZA? If not, what would you recommend to improve this support?
Shane: I mentioned the ICZ earlier, and one of the single, greatest reasons for our success has been the incredible support that we receive from WAZA. Without the recognition and support the ICZ receives from WAZA, we would not be where we are today. In general, I think there is always room for improvement for all of the regional zoo and zoo keeper associations to work more closely together. We all share the same common missions, so it only makes sense for us to collaborate and partner toward our common goals.