Dr. Jordan Schaul from Zoo Peeps is a special guest blogger this week. Please read below as he discusses people skills for animal people!
I believe Animal Keepers’ Forum, the publication of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, still publishes a column that has drawn much acclaim from the AAZK membership and perhaps a broader demographic of animal/zoo professionals. People forget that that having an innate animal sense is important, but it actually takes a lot of skill to harness the emotional intelligence to cultivate relationships and read people. So I’m sometime suspicious of people who say they have great animal sense they just don’t have use for people. I assure you that individuals with “people skills” are not fond of many folks’ they encounter, but they work or finesse the moment with impressive “People Savvy.” I’m not talking about politicos, just those with polished interpersonal skills. Remember, these individuals are likely to have a lot of patience for difficult animals, if they have patience for difficult people. I mean, what would you rather deal with first thing in the morning?
I don’t know that the following topic has ever been addressed, but one thing that I always found interesting is that some keepers at facilities in temperate climates are eager for summer to pass because they just prefer the peace and quiet of life behind- the- scenes with their animals and nothing more. I was told that I was an exception in that I looked forward to summer. I like the bustling activity that the patrons provide, even if they are pointing at the restroom while asking me where it is. To me the zoo is about educating the visitors or at least providing exposure. Of course, I like the animal interaction, but I couldn’t imagine working at an off-exhibit facility for extended periods of time. I’ve done it and to me it feels as though it is missing a critical component.
The ironic thing is that some of the keepers with the gift for gab who are naturally poised for public interaction avoid it like the plague and others who could benefit from some training are eager to jump in and host an Animal Planet production. I’ve seen keepers give informal and impromptu “Meet the Keeper” talks that would give Jeff Corwin a lot of competition, not that I follow him much. Keepers are the conduit between the animal ambassadors 10 meters away and general public. They know the individual animal, but can speak to the conservation issues and natural history. No one is more poised to engaged an audience. It’s what makes the zoo experience so special. Web cams and TV programs can’t replace that authentic experience. Even a naturalist familiar with the habits of individual wild animals is not in a position to convey the personal experience with these magnificent animals that keepers are so fortunate to have. Hopefully more people will remember how poised they are to impact so many people. It takes 10 minutes out of your day to leave a lasting impression on zoo visitors who collectively can make a big difference.
Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus