Knee Deep: Zookeeper

Knee Deep Zookeeper

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH - For this episode of Knee Deep I got a little selfish... I am a huge animal lover and any chance I get to do a story surrounding any kind of animal I jump on it.

So, I called up our great friend Krys Bylund at John Ball Zoo and asked if I could tag along with a zookeeper for a job of their choice. As usual, Krys made it easy on me and was on board!

Words can't describe how excited I was to go behind the scenes, but I can tell you on the inside I felt just like Jonah Hill in this GIF.

The best part about these Knee Deep segments is we, photographer extraordinaire Evan Linnert and I, don't really know what we're getting into until we get there.

*side note*

If you've never had the pleasure of meeting Evan Linnert here is a snazzy picture of him and his cat Dez.

We met Krys in the front of the zoo and she took us up the hill to the aquarium. I was so excited when she was opening doors I didn't even know existed to take us to the back of the aquarium. As visitors, we see about a third of the aquarium. The other two-thirds is behind the curtain. This is where they prepare food, clean filters and do all the jobs that keep the aquarium moving safely, cleanly and smoothly.

This is where we met Kristi and David. Two zookeepers who aren't afraid of a little hard work. First, we worked with Kristi. Kristi and David both mainly work in the aquarium so they can do these jobs much quicker than what I did, luckily they were very patient with me.

First things first, Kristi told me we had to separate and weigh (dead) fish into bowls. They do this twice a day for the penguins.

Before the fish are ready to be eaten, zookeepers hide a multivitamin behind their gil. Once the fish are packed with vitamins, separated and weighed, they're ready for the penguin deck. However, before the fish are served, the remnants from the meal before needed to be picked up.

This is a very slimy, sticky, messy and sometimes stinky job.

The penguins are worth all the work.

The average lifespan of a magellanic penguin is somewhere around 25 years. John Ball Zoo has two penguins over the age of 30 and going strong!

Next on our to do list was filters.

Enter, David. He's been a zookeeper at John Ball Zoo for 22 years and knows his way around the aquarium. He was a great teacher when it came to explaining the process, which is different for every filter (and there are A LOT) of filters.

The filters are taken out, hosed off, sit in an overnight bleach bath, hosed off again and then ready to work. They're used about every six or seven days, but zookeepers clean filters daily. This process, again, took me a good amount of time, where David made it look easy.

The filters are a lot heavier than I expected, and it was really tough to screw and unscrew everything. The process is intricate and specific.

These stories are always a lot of fun because it gives you a whole new perspective and appreciation for the amazing people who work these jobs everyday!

I know the animals appreciate the work these zookeepers do!

For more information on John Ball Zoo, click here. They are always looking for volunteers!

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