I've now worked with the two adorable, sweet giraffe boys we'll be getting soon! It was an incredible experience and I can't wait to work with them every day! This training trip was perfect because we were stationed in a building with giraffes, rhinos and small antelope- the exact things we needed to work with.
The giraffes were fun because we got to hand feed them and they would bend down to sniff our hands or heads. The rhinos were possibly my favorite animal I've ever worked with. I heart rhinos! I think Roz was a bit disgusted with me because I was so much more interested in working with rhinos we'll probably never see again than I was in working with "our" giraffes. I couldn't help it! Rhinos are so huge and scary-looking while at the same time so calm and gentle. (Don't get me wrong, they are certainly potentially quite dangerous.) The rhinos would come up to the bars to be scratched and petted. I've always known their horns are made out of hair, but never been close enough to OBSERVE that fact. The entire trip was a learning experience and we learned an amazing amount about giraffes and rhinos.
As a zookeeper at another zoo, you tend to get plenty of behind-the-scenes tours and other extras. Zookeepers love showing off their animals. We saw the insides of most of the buildings in the general area we were working. We met and played with a hand-raised kangaroo. We talked with the keeper who trains a gibbon that came from our zoo. When we were offered a tour of the elephant barn we were only mildly interested, but in for a major surprise. We assumed we'd be looking at the building itself and possibly get close to one or more elephants. It was sooo much more :) We were led straight through the building into an enclosed training yard. We watched a couple minutes of a training session and the trainers invited us to come pet the elephant. Cool! We petted her a couple of minutes, thanked the keepers and started walking back toward the people we came with, when they said "Don't you want a ride?" Roz about flipped. I wasn't so sure. I'm not crazy about heights and elephants are big. Really big. Roz took her turn and as she was getting off they asked if I was SURE I didn't want a ride? I figured there was a good chance I'd never get this opportunity again so I went for it. This was no saddled elephant with a stairway to get on... This was a bareback ride. I had to climb onto the gigantic beast and practically do the splits to straddle its back! The only thing to hold onto was her ears. It was pretty scary going up and down but the ride itself was a blast. I'm very glad I did it.
The entire trip was a blast. We had a fun dinner with a former coworker and had a great time catching up. The only downside was our complete dive of a hotel. It was booked without any consideration other than distance from the zoo and the price. It turned out to be located in Trucker Heaven. We were surrounded by two huge truck stops. Within two minutes of walking, we could reach TWO CB shops, an adult book store, a strip club, a seedy-looking bar and a gas station that offered pay showers. The hotel itself was dirty. All the rooms opened to the parking lots. We had VERY little hot water- our showers were luke-warm. They left us two towels, one washcloth and one hand towel daily. Our original bar of soap had mold on the wrapper. There was no iron or hair dryer (and I couldn't use the shower steam trick because the shower didn't make steam...) The lobby window had a bullet hole. The "free breakfast" consisted of two cereal dispensers that sat out 24/7 and a tray of old-looking Hostess donuts. Oh, and a jug of milk in a bowl of ice and a cheap coffee pot.
We took pictures of all this stuff and went and had them printed. While waiting for the pics, we found a poster board, some markers, glue and tape, colored paper and some stickers and feathers. We then returned to the hotel and made a lovely thankyou poster for the boss :) We also included several photos of us with different animals. We apparently got our point across because we're booked at a Holiday Inn for our St. Louis trip next week. Score!