Day in the life of a John Ball Zoo Keeper

Posted at 4:20 PM, Mar 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-24 17:36:55-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The John Ball Zoo is open for the 2017 season. While the zoo isn't open 24-7, zookeeping is a full-time job, whether it's open or not.

On the zookeepers way in and out of the park they have one main priority and that is feeding the animals. The John Ball Zoo let me tag along and be a zoo keeper for a day.

First stop, the reptile house to hand feed the garter snake. “They’re not venomous," zookeeper Erin Sattler explains. "Garter snakes that you find in your backyards are going to be eating things like earthworms, small mice, so you really don’t have to worry about them doing anything.”

Phew, that ruled out the possibility of me dying in the first 10 minutes on the job. Handing me a set of giant tweezers and a fish, Sattler talked me through feeding the snake. “She’s getting a fish today and you’re going to use these tongs to feed it. So just pick it right up and she’s probably going to take it pretty willingly."

In no time the snake was swallowing the little fish whole. Next up, we were off to the poisonous dart frogs with one big question on my mind...are they actually poisonous? "They are not in captivity," Sattler assured, "In the wild it all depends on what they eat. In captivity they don’t get the exact same thing, so we don’t have to worry about them being poisonous."

What a relief! They actually eat tiny pinhead crickets and fruit flies that you scatter in their tank.

Leaving the frogs to snack down on the crunchy crickets, it was time to head to the kitchen to prepare for the next day.

Handing me large chef's knife, zookeeper Mitchel Rens said, “Alright, we’re going to have you make the treat bucket for the chimps for tomorrow. And if you do a good enough job, they’ll stay out of trouble."

Following a diet card made by the zoo's veterinary team, I chopped up a bucket full of fresh treats for the chimps.

And the cycle continues every day, 365 days a year.