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Andrew Coers

Andrew Coers.

Andrew Coers works at Auckland zoo and he can be seen regularly on the television programme The Zoo. He has always been interested in animals and has some really good advice about caring for animals. To find out more about where Andrew works visit the Auckland Zoo website.

I am interested in being a zookeeper. What subjects would you have to take at school to be one and how long does it take to train to be a zookeeper?

You need to keep up your science subjects (especially Bio) and computer studies. You also need good communications skills, to be physically fit, and willing to get wet and dirty. Zookeepers need to have completed one of a variety of tertiary level animal-care related courses before they can apply to be a trainee zoo keeper, starting at Level 1. This takes about two years. Most keepers experience several zoos, sometimes in different parts of the world, during the course of their career.

I was wondering if you had a favourite animal. If you do, what makes it so special?

Every animal is special in its own way. I work closely with elephants, sea lions and a New Zealand fur seal, all of which I think are really cool animals. But I also have a marine fish tank at home, which is quite different, but equally fascinating. Breeding native geckos is another hobby I enjoy.

I am scared of some animals like lions because they are so big and can really hurt you. What is the scariest animal in the zoo and why?

The most dangerous species at the zoo is definitely humans because they have so much influence on what goes on in the world. All animals can be dangerous if they feel a threat to themselves, their offspring, or their territory (home). Some animals are very heavy, for instance the elephants, rhinos, and hippos and are quite capable of crushing a person.

In contrast, the big cats are faster and are meat-eaters, while the apes are extremely strong, intelligent, and cunning. But, in the end, it could be that mosquitos might be the most dangerous, or possibly some of the birds, if the bird-flu epidemic spreads.

How do the animals get to New Zealand? What are some of the things that can go wrong and do the animals get upset?

Most zoo animals have been born at another zoo, or in a wildlife park, either in New Zealand or in another country. Their method of transport depends on their size and the distance they are travelling. If they are travelling internationally usually they arrive by air, because the animals will be crated for a shorter time. Usually a keeper the animal knows travels to offer reassurance, and to ensure it is fed and watered appropriately along the way. Stress is minimised by getting animals used to the travelling crate for weeks or months before an anticipated move. They are often sedated to lessen stress. If the movement is within the country, then sometimes they are transported by road, or by boat.

How do you find out what sorts of food they like or how much to feed them?

We generally try to offer as close to the animals’ natural diet as we can. The carnivores are feed meat and bones in a variety of ways. The herbivores have a variety of hay, grass, and fresh branches/leaves, and the omnivores have a changing mixture of seasonal fruit/vegetables/nuts/insects/eggs. Amounts are varied after regular weigh-ins if necessary.

What do you do if there is a fight between animals or they don’t get on?

We try to anticipate problems and stop them before they start. So for instance, we don’t let an enclosure become overcrowded and we make sure (for some species) that young males are transferred to another zoo before they mature, so there is only one male.

We also provide lots of "behavioural enrichment" to provide challenges so we don’t have bored animals squabbling. New animals being introduced to each other or to a group, is a time when they will all need to sort themselves out, and there may be some aggression. Animals are usually kept in adjacent enclosures so they can get used to the sight and smell of each other before they are actually introduced into the same enclosure. On these occasions we have staff members observe their behaviour. Mostly they sort it out among themselves, with a few scratches, without any need for intervention. Occasionally we have to isolate an animal, or come up with a strategy that works for every animal in the group.

Do the animals who come from hot countries find it too cold in New Zealand? What can you do to make it easier for them?

Before we bring any animal into this zoo, we run through a checklist to ensure we can meet its needs, some of which may involve providing an environment appropriately controlled for both temperature and humidity. For animals with these needs, thermostats will be installed to measure temperatures and will turn on heater/heat lamps when needed. Alternatively, fans (or in extreme cases air-conditioning) would be provided to keep animals cool. For animals whose needs we can’t meet properly (for example, polar bears), the decision is made not to include them in our collection.

Do you have many animals that are close to extinction? What is the best way we can help these animals?

About a third of the species at our zoo are classified as endangered, some of which are very vulnerable. It is very difficult for New Zealanders to do much in practical terms for overseas species other than learning about what is happening to them and their habitats, and not to promote the trade of animals. Locally, however, you can become involved in an environmental group which is working in your own area to make a real difference. ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’. If everyone thinks about their own actions in terms of sustainable living, then the world may see the benefit.


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