Up until I began typing this, I had been walking around the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo talking to our zookeepers, maintainers, and security staff. There are no visitors. In fact, the zoo is closed. Right now, we are in the middle of a blizzard. It started as a few flakes at midnight, but 13 hours later, it’s now a full-blown snowstorm.
For safety reasons, it was an easy decision to close the zoo to the public and not ask the non-essential personnel to come in under these conditions. But because animals need to be fed, cleaned, and looked after regardless of the weather conditions (remember this prospective pet owners) the keepers, maintenance, and security staff were all expected to report to work.
Remarkably, they all did. Queens Zoo staff come from all sections of Queens, Brooklyn, Suffolk, and Nassau counties; as far north as Putnam County and as far west as New Jersey. We even have someone who drives in from Pennsylvania. And not one worker called in and said they couldn’t get here. In fact, no one ever calls in sick when we have a snowstorm or any other kind of emergency.
As I type, I am looking out my office window. The nearby trees are gradually being obscured by heavy snow and gusting wind. About 20 yards beyond that, one staff member is in the parrot exhibit knocking the snow off the canopy so it does not build up and collapse from too much weight.
This fellow has been doing this on and off since 7a.m., and it is now 1:30 p.m. And guess what? He isn’t even an animal keeper. He works with the maintenance department, and like everyone else here, he cares about the animals more than he cares about his job description or his personal comfort.
As the Queens Zoo’s director, it’s my job to worry about whether our staff is going to show up in a snowstorm or any other emergency to care for the animals and keep the zoo running. But I’ll tell you a secret: I never worry about it.
Having a job that helps you care for living things must bring out the best in people, because I have people showing up two hours early to help out. They even offer to drive out in the storm and pick up other people who don’t have cars. I even have people offering to stay all night in case of an emergency. But one thing they never do, at least not in my 13 years here, is not show up to work because of a snowstorm.
It’s hard work taking care of animals in a zoo. It takes a lot of people doing all kinds of things to deliver the best care to the animals. I am not sure what attracts people to this career – I am sure it is not the money, and it’s definitely not the glamour. But whatever it is, I think it speaks well of our society that so many people, particularly young people, are still eager to do it.
I think I know the reason why they always show up to work when there is an emergency. And it can be summed up in two words: They care. I am not sure I can explain why they care so much for animals, and even if I could I would have to save it for another time. Right now I have to go knock snow off of the parrot exhibit canopy.
Scott Silver is the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo.