We are celebrating National Zookeeper Week here on ZooFit, honoring the hard work, intense dedication, and tireless efforts zookeepers exert to keep their animals healthy, happy, and thriving, and their contributions to conservation and research. Today’s post is dedicated to all the aspiring zookeepers in the world.
In my two decades in the field, I’ve learned a lot from the animals I’ve worked with, along with many other animals I’ve encountered. My favorite lesson from the animal kingdom helped me when I was starting out in my career, or TRYING to get my start in my career.
As a young college student, I wanted nothing more than to be an animal care specialist caring for marine mammals. To gain valuable experience, I volunteered at several exotic animal sanctuaries, one of them with tigers where I helped clean enclosures, prepare diets, and on occasion assist with programs where visitors learned about tigers and the other animals. Working around these impressive animals did indeed give me the experience I needed, but it was the life lesson instilled in me that got me my first job.
The Mighty Tiger
Did you know that tigers, one of the fiercest creatures on the planet, has only a 5-7% success rate every time they hunt? Yeah, tigers only catch their prey 1 out of 15-20 attempts.
And, supposedly, that’s EACH TIME they go hunting. So, the 16th or 18th attempt doesn’t give them better odds. They still have a 93-95% chance of botching their hunt.
But the tiger never gives up. They don’t throw in the towel and say, “this is too hard, I can’t do it.” Granted, for the tiger, giving up means they starve, but it’s still an interesting life lesson. Because, if we humans had only a 5-7% success rate on our endeavors, how likely would it be WE would not give up?
So, how does a tiger do it? How does the tiger go into each hunt, day in and day out, without giving up, even though there is only a slim chance for success?
They have a BIG Why. Their Why is survival. Tigers don’t have an option for ordering their food from the takeout place, or having it delivered to their doorstep. They have to hunt, no matter how improbable success may look.
Never Give Up
When I learned this about tigers, I recalled my attempts to get into animal care at that time, and even how these attempts had led me to volunteering at the tiger sanctuary. See, I was very much in a spot where I wanted to give up. I had wanted to work with marine mammals for as long as I could remember. I got a job working as an educator at my dream facility, and worked my way through college.
As much as I enjoyed my job in education, it wasn’t my dream. I dreamed of swimming with dolphins, rescuing manatees, and training polar bears. So, when positions in the animal care department opened up, I applied, sent in my resume and did the swim test. I wasn’t super surprised I didn’t get a job offer on my first attempt. But I wanted to know what I could do next time to improve.
“Get more animal experience,” the managers responded to my inquiry.
So I did. I started volunteering at the Humane Society and a small animal rescue center. Another position opened up and I applied again. And got rejected again.
“Get more scuba diving experience.”
The next weekend I had off, I planned a trip to the Florida Keys so I could go scuba diving and gain experience.
On my third attempt, the managers told me I needed to prove I was a strong swimmer. I found this perplexing as I already WAS a strong swimmer, but signed up for a lifeguarding certification course to put on my resume.
That may have helped but didn’t seal the deal. On my fourth attempt, I was getting frustrated. “We’re not sure how you would handle working around potentially dangerous animals,” the managers had said. So, I searched for facilities where I could gain experience with large animals, and found the tiger sanctuary.
But after my fifth attempt, and I still didn’t get the offer, I was at wits end. Especially when the response from my inquiry on why I didn’t get the job was simply, “You weren’t the right fit.”
I’ll admit, I cried. I was so done with trying and trying and not getting anywhere.
But those damn tigers…
They don’t give up.
A Big Why
I had to have a Big Why, a reason to not give up. Luckily, it was right there in my heart and mind already. This was my DREAM. Not just to work with marine mammals, but to work with marine mammals at THIS facility. It was all I had wanted since I was five years old, when I saw my first dolphin show, and I pointed to the trainers playing in the water with their flippered friends and exclaimed to my mother, “THAT’S what I want to do when I grow up.”
So, my Big Why, my dream, helped me channel my inner tiger, brushed me off, and got me back in the saddle.
I didn’t get the job on my sixth attempt. But I was a tiger now, and I wasn’t going to give up.
On my seventh attempt, I was offered a part-time entry level position in animal care. It would be a lot of hard work without much rewarding animal contact. But it was a stepping stone. I accepted and began my career that would span twenty years and dozens of species.
But it wouldn’t have happened if I had given up.
Lesson From a Tiger
Never give up. Never ever ever give up. That is the lesson the tigers teach us.
If you have a dream, even if it feels impossible, improbable, or too fantastical, I implore you to channel your inner tiger, too. Dig deep inside, find your Big Why, and KEEP GOING!
I promise, even when the odds are against you, you will succeed.