I LOOK AFTER the giraffes, zebra, bison, red lechwe, oryx and tapir at Fota Wildlife Park, where I am keeper of hooved animals, writes AIDAN RAFFERTY
I also look after the emus and ostriches, because, though they’re not hooved, obviously, they are in my paddock.
As a species the giraffes are my favourite, but individually I have a tapir who is the only one on my watch who would let you touch them. She rolls over to let you pet her. Nothing else in here would let you. It’s good, really, because it’s safer that way. Animals that are used to humans aren’t afraid of humans, and that’s a danger for a keeper, especially when you’re talking something as big as a giraffe.
I’ve an ostrich I raised from an egg, which is the closest thing I have to a child on this earth, so I take a particular interest in her, too, though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t remember it.
I’ve been at Fota for five years. Prior to this I was a book-keeper in a petrol station.
When you’re younger you just work for beer money, but one morning you wake up and decide you’d better find work that you actually like. So I came down here and, through a friend of a friend, got taken on as a general operative.
I studied zookeeping by correspondence course, and then, happily, a vacancy came up for this position, and I got the job. I love it. Where else would you get to watch a bison being born, as I did this morning? Both mother and baby are doing fine.
I’m in at 9am and do a general check, make up the feeds and let out the animals who are in overnight. Then I spend around four hours mucking out. People walk by the yard holding their nose, but I’m immune to the smell. I don’t even know what they’re referring to. But when I’m away for a couple of weeks and get back I can get the whiff – it’s like coming home.
We have lunch in the staff canteen. You bring your own. I’ll finish up the mucking out mid-afternoon. Then there’s a chance to catch up on any odd jobs. There’s always a million things to do, from mending fences to grass trimming. I might help out someone else if they are stuck, but the other keepers don’t always like to ask me, because then they have to help me muck out in return.
In the evening it’s the reverse of the morning: make up the feed and bring them all back in. The animals are so used to their routines that they’ll be waiting at the gate for me to bring them in.
Once that’s done I’ll do a last check and then head home. I’ve a snake and four turtles as pets, but luckily they don’t need nearly so much looking after.
- In conversation with Sandra O’Connell