What many people don’t realise about being a presenter at the zoo is that the show one puts up is merely a small part of an otherwise extremely long and busy day. In fact, doing shows is perhaps the most relaxing part of the day once one learns the ropes. The learning curve of becoming a fully fledged zoo presenter is not so much a curve rather than a vertical line.
Having had no prior experience in this line of work, I was thrown into the deep end and had to learn everything from scratch, from mundane things like how to walk on stage, to hard scientific knowledge about the animals.
The skills I acquired from my work with animals were surprisingly immense. Here’s a list of 6 of the most interesting things I learnt from being a zoo presenter.
One of the most exhausting things about being a zoo presenter – or just working at the zoo in general – is caring for the animals. Like all animals, the ones that work with us on stage have to be taken care of, fed and monitored. It is through this caretaking that bonds are formed with the animals and we learn how to work better together with them.
My husbandry experience sent me wading through waist-deep waters to round up flamingos and pelicans for their yearly vaccinations. When you’re literally up close and personal with the animals, you can’t help but notice the huge beaks that pelicans have, or that flamingos breathe through the nostrils on their beaks (I learnt this the hard way when I accidentally covered a flamingo’s nostrils, ending in a violent struggle where the flamingo inevitably prevailed).
LEAN, MEAN SHOWTIME MACHINES
There’s a lot more than meets the eye during animal shows at the zoo – what with all the secret doors, concealed holes, and misdirection. When the main presenter draws your attention to a certain part of the stage, chances are that you probably just missed a flurry of action elsewhere.
Being a zoo presenter is definitely an occupation that requires an immense amount of teamwork. During a show, everyone has a part to play and everyone has to play their part for the show to proceed smoothly. One never starts off as a main presenter, but rather as a stagehand, learning to integrate ourselves into someone else’s show.
From there, we then progress to appearing on stage, but only during certain segments. Being a zoo presenter is less about presenting than it is about learning how to work as a team to produce a show.
THE SHOW: PRESENTED VERSUS PLANNED
Because animals are living things with unpredictable behaviour, mistakes in a show are inevitable. Animals cannot be compelled to actions against their wills, which is why the bond between animal and presenter is so important.
When an animal behaves contrary to what was planned, the zoo presenter is expected to adapt to the situation and improvise accordingly. In general, for every 10 shows, at least 3 to 4 shows have unexpected parts that the main presenter – with the help of the other backstage presenters – will have to react to.
HOW TO ESTIMATE WEIGHT WITH MY BARE HANDS
Part of my job as a zoo presenter involved weighing food portions to be used in the show. Animals were already fed two to three meals a day, so limiting the amount of food used in the shows was necessary to avoid overfeeding them.
This involved a lot of my standing before a weighing scale, and using my hands to portion out raw fish, shrimps, pellets, nuts, meat and other treats for the animals. This taught me how to use my hands as an approximate weighing scale which was– practically speaking – one of the most useful takeaways from being a presenter at the zoo. There’s a strange sense of satisfaction to be had from filling a 150-gram bag with 151 grams of toffees.
Being a presenter at the zoo is honestly a very difficult undertaking. The learning curve is a steep one and it takes a lot of effort and perseverance to stick to it and internalise everything.
Looking back, my time as a zoo presenter blurred into knowing the amount of food that each animal eats (I even knew which animal preferred which types of fruits), knowing which animals I could sneak an extra treat to, fond memories of my favourite animals and my favourite people at the zoo (who made me genuinely laugh at jokes that were repeated daily, on every single run of the show for 2 years).
Deborah is a writer for ShopBack SG, the online cashback site that provides cashback for over 500 online stores. She is a parrot lover who spends her free days visiting her friends (both human and non-human) at the zoo.