Sunday, October 25, 2015

Get Rich Quick Schemes For Any Smart Zookeeper

There are a few skills required of zoo professionals that are kind of weird.  Like, you never think about them until you're required to use them.  It blows my mind knowing that out there on this great planet of ours, billions of people will never know what it's like to say, lock a padlock with one hand.

Forget swim tests: let's do hose sharpshooting tests.

Also, most of us aren't rolling in the dough at our jobs by any means.  Pair these two things together and you've got fantastic potential to make zillions of dollars.  I have come up with so many Get Rich Quick Schemes (herein referred to as GRQs) that I'm pretty sure I could be a majillionaire if I:
a) had money for patents and 
b) got off my lazy butt to actually follow through....

....but usually something happens, like my baby laughs or my cockatiel says "love you" in a  really pathetic little voice and I'm all like, "Ohhhhh" and my idea goes out the window forever.

Question: can I do this entire blog with Napoleon Dynamite memes?

I'm going to throw out some skill-GRQ pairings to all of you.  Because you know what?  Even though I get distracted by a box of double chocolate donuts, I still think someone ought to invent products to help us out.  And maybe one of you will actually do something with this, and I'll benefit from using such a product.  So use my ideas.  I don't even need credit.  Maybe just send me some samples for free or something.

Okay, onto my list.  

Answer: Yes.  But I won't.  I promise.

Skill 1: Locking a padlock with one hand

I was out at our seal habitat a few days ago, and had a serious issue with a lock.  Not that this lock and I haven't had our fair share of nasty fights, but this time I was really mad.  See, the way we get into our seal habitat is through this door:

Behold, the padlock. This leads to a back area, which then leads into the actual seal habitat.

You can see the padlock, right?  Right now, it's a key-lock (side note: number locks in salty air die terrible and quick deaths), and it's getting a little crusty thanks to its close vicinity to the Gulf.  Nonetheless, when we leave our session and go to lock the door behind us, we usually have one hand with at least one cooler in it, leaving one free hand to lock up.  This means we are all dexterously skilled at cradling the lock in our palm, manipulating all parts into position, and in one swift movement slamming it shut.  Boom.

But a couple of days ago, I couldn't do it.  I don't know if my brain was not working properly, or my hands were uncooperative, or if the lock itself was just too corroded to move without the force of two hands.  Either way, it was ridiculous.  My ire led my train of thought to a place called Why Do We Even Have To Deal With This.  My idea?  Let's get rid of padlocks in all zoos and aquariums for back areas and double-barrier gates.  Let's replace them with Star Trek-age doors, the swooshy ones that open smoothly and dramatically.  They have to make the swoosh sound, obviously.  And maybe they are activated by a retinal scanner.

Guests will be intrigued: who's behind those awesome doors? Darth Vader? Harbor seals?

You walk up, buckets and husbandry/training supplies in hand, and WHOOSH, the doors open for you and you alone, and WHOOSH close behind you.  No public can get in.  And you can spend the brainpower required to lock a padlock with one hand on something far more relevant, like eating five slices of pizza at once or something.

Skill 2: Algae removal

Don't even worry about it, they're fine.

Any animal care professional working around water regardless of salinity concentration knows what I'm talking about here.  

Let me first admit that I LOVE SCRUBBING ALGAE.  I have no clue why, but I do.  I especially love scuba diving and using power scrubbers.  It's a great workout and you really feel accomplished when you're done.  I love love love it.  Sure, I have seaweed in my hair for days, but I have basically the worst sense of smell (like one time I thought capelin smelled like pumpkin pie) so it doesn't really bother me.

But the thing is, even with the best power scrubber, there are some pool coatings and types of algae that form a bond stronger than any physical bond known to science.  The only thing that kills this algae is a change in seasons, a hint of roid rage and maybe a little holy water.  Otherwise, you'll get a superficial layer off, but underneath it lies the bane of our existence.

There has GOT to be another way to get rid of that algae.  If it were a human swimming pool, you'd nuke it with chlorine.   Maybe copper.  But those chemicals are not used anymore or are used very sparingly...amounts that won't hurt the animals.  And guess what, barely make a dent in this tough algae stuff I'm talking about.  There was a company that claimed this insanely thin pool coating would "never" let algae grow.  Well, they never dealt with the supernatural stuff I'm talking about, because this insanely expensive coating (I mean....insanely expensive) basically slowed down the growth.  

Or like, a genius Val Kilmer and some lasers?

I don't have any good ideas past a ouji board and whatever else they tried in Paranormal Activity.  Please tell me someone out there is working on something.

Skill 3: Carrying multiple buckets or coolers at one time

Despite all of us dressing up in 80s costumes for our Halloween event this weekend, Kate could not manage a smile because she had so many buckets to carry.

Marine mammal trainers, am I right or am I right?  We carry so many buckets by hand to our sessions.  We want to be Efficient and Helpful.  We want to show our bosses We Are Working Hard.  So we grab four giant coolers instead of two.  We latch two or three metal buckets together per hand and lug it upstairs, outside, downstairs, inside, whatever.

Yeah, for long distances, you can use a cart or something.  One place I worked at used tricycles (I am not making this up) and it was awesome.  But I'm talking about when you walk tens or maybe a hundred feet to your destination.  It doesn't seem all that bad to carry all of those coolers a "short" distance.  But have you ever noticed a twinge in your elbow or wrist?  Of course you have, because that's what carrying those things do.  And over time, that can become a serious problem for some people.  It pulls your wrist out of alignment and puts strain on ligaments that are not supposed to stretch (they don't ever go back once you've stretched them out).

So you can either just carry one cooler/bucket per hand, or we can come up with some device that you wrap around your forearm and wrist, that have little hooks or something on them where you attach your coolers.  And it keeps all of your arm and hand anatomy nice and happy, but allows you to be the badass you are and carry 250 buckets at one time without destroying yourself when you're old.  Right?? Right??? There's gotta be a market for that.  I'd buy some!  

Skill 4: Rinsing large buckets/coolers utilizing Russian Contortionist Moves

Don't mind me.  Just checking for scales.

Along the same lines with wrist health, I know I speak for my coworkers when I say we can twist an igloo cooler around using moves originally patented by Cirque du Soleil.   Thoroughly rinsing one of those rectangular, awkward buckets requires you to move your hands in ways that would make any physical therapist weep instantly.  

This is a cool skill to have, but ultimately one I wouldn't mind leaving behind if only to maintain the health of my wrists.  We need a way to flip the coolers upside down but keep them steady enough to withstand a strong, continuous blast of water to ensure it is cleaned properly.  

Skill 5: Opening gates without looking

I feel like Bad Santa breaking into safes every time

For those of you who work free-contact with terrestrial or amphibious animals, you already know what I'm talking about here.  For those of you who have never worked with said creatures, let me fill you in. 

When I am working with sea lions, there is a point at which the session ends and I need to get out of the habitat.  Ideally, I am out of the habitat before the session ends.  Also ideally, it'd be great to have a second person to open my gate for me (and also to shower me with gifts and candy).  However, I - like so many of you - work at a facility with limited staffing.  Alas, it is not often possible for me to have the luxury of a second person to work my gate.   And some of our gates require more finagling than just simply pushing them open, even if they are technically unlocked.  

This means I have to stick my hand through a hole in the gate, unlatch whatever is required...all while not taking my focus off of the animals in front of me.  This is a skill that I think has to be used in the CIA, because it feels very spy-ish and risky.

Spies are cool

Alas, it would be nice for those of us at small facilities/with small staffs to have a way to open gates without the method I've just outlined.  I'm thinking something similar to my swooshy door idea, but voice activated gates that only recognize the voices of zookeepers in that area, and you have to use a series of random words that change on a weekly basis.  Like, "cheese hedgehog conglomerate" would be a good one.  Or maybe "pancreas" to lock everything up.  I'd be really good at coming up with secret phrases, so keep that in mind if one of you decides to actually invent this thing.

Skill 6: Using a hose with surgical precision

Wombat on your leg? Who cares, you're still a master at hose skills

If anyone needs anything moved under the power of water, hire a zookeeper.  We can shoot a dime-sized piece of poop from 100 yards away with our eyes closed.  Don't even worry about it.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are sharp-shooting amateurs when it comes to zoo professionals.  In fact, if there were ever a need to form militias, zookeepers should be first considered for combat, as long as their weapon is a hose.  Right between the eyes, I tell ya.

I'm not sure if we can improve this system; we are already so good and efficient at it.  But what we can do is spice it up.  We know that new keepers or interns may not be as good initially at hosing.  Sometimes, we lament this to other keepers and wonder how we can train someone to be better at it.  The answer is: laser sights on all hose nozzles.  See where your stream is going to hit.  See which movements clearly move things in the desired direction. Bonus? It's enriching for the animals if they're in there while you clean.

Skill 7: Eating with smelly hands without vomiting 

No, really.  This is for real.

I wash my hands 10,000 times a day.  I'm not a germophobe, I swear.  It's just that I don't really want to eat fish scales, or get anything else all disgusting with my fish boogery hands.  Alas, despite the amount of times I wash, my hands still smell like fish, sea lion sludge, and otter poop.  I intentionally don't bring lunch that requires that I use my hands too much, but that is limiting.  In fact, that lowers the quality of my life.  Sometimes I want a giant peanut butter sandwich.  I refuse to eat pizza with a fork and knife*.   

Like I said, I have a terrible sense of smell, but I can be totally grossed out by the odor on my hands.  If it sucks for me, it must be AWFUL for the rest of you.  So what can we do?  Surely, there must be something.  They made Poo-pourri for god's sake.  Let's get some of that technology on our zookeepers' hands.

Skill 8: Carrying a giant scale for large animals

The ol' "light as a feather, stiff as a board" doesn't work on this thing.

Oh. My. God.  Does anyone actually enjoy lugging around a giant scale on weight days?  I mean, of course we'll do it, because the animals need to be weighed and that's an important part of their basic care.  But that scale.  It's so heavy.  It's so awkward.  And if you're a marine mammal trainer like me, you're carrying it around really slippery areas.  

The only answer?  Hovercrafts.  Let's get them made for us in the zoo field.  Think of all of the things you can do with a hovercraft when you're not carrying a scale.  I mean, you can't argue with me on this.

Hovercrafts, retinal scanners, and swoosh doors.  Obviously, I have a sci-fi theme in mind, but the sky's the limit on creativity here. I am more than willing to give up my skills listed above if someone wants to invent something to make our lives better.  And I hope you get really rich doing it, and then donate a bunch of money to animals in need.

What other skills can be improved with some neat-o inventions, dear readers?


* Unless it's Chicago deep dish pizza, in which case I'll use whatever necessary to get as much of that delicious pie into my mouth


  1. Have you thought about using a yoke to carry buckets?


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