Gone with the Wind... a Taronga Bird Keeper in Canada
Monday 30th August 2010
Gone with the Wind... a Taronga Bird Keeper in Canada

Beaver-tails, funnel cakes, baseball, peppers (capsicums!) and skunks. None of these were part of my world until recently, some of these weren’t even part of my vocabulary and in retrospect I think I still wish funnel cakes wasn’t.

My name is Brendan and I’m one of the Bird Show keepers at Taronga Zoo, however currently I’m away on a keeper exchange program at Toronto Zoo, Canada. So that means I’ve swapped with a keeper there. His name is Dan and he’s currently doing my job whilst I’m doing his. I hope that explains some of the weird phrases above! This exchange will last up to nine months, so it’s a long way to be away from home.

Just like Taronga’s Bird Show, Toronto Zoo also has a division aimed at showing off some very cool animals called Outreach and Discovery, and like the bird show I am used to, they present two shows daily. Only one show is centered around birds though, the other is a mixed-species show, presenting mammals and birds. This is amazing for me to be a part of as I have only ever trained birds before, with the exception of some very talented rats. This means skunks, bald eagles, woodchucks, storks, turkey vultures and some very relaxed ferrets has become part of my every day. Walking in and having a skunk look up at you first thing in the morning is very surreal, not to mention cute.

Some of the challenges have been learning the new animal routines, learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road and of course presenting the shows. So luckily, as our zoos’ names sound similar, with an accent, doing a show, if you say the wrong one … nobody knows! Don’t laugh! Everything I say here I apparently pronounce ‘funny’. The repertoire of words I can no longer say grows everyday and now includes pathway, banana, compost, route and most appealing to ridicule me over is ‘squirrel’. Personally I think they are the ones speaking comically. Not me!

One of the greatest things I love about Toronto Zoo is how different it is but still so similar. As both zoos are members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (WAZA) we share the same visions and goals fundamentally and are involved in like breeding programs and conservation initiatives such as celebrating 2010’s Year of Biodiversity. It’s great to be able to see zoos work on a global scale.

As with any organisation, it is the people that make a good place great, and that is definitely the case at Toronto Zoo. Every member of the zoo I have had the pleasure of meeting has extended a hand of friendship. I have been here for such a short time, less than three months, but even in that time feel like I have experienced so much. Facebook doesn’t help with the less than graceful moments but every moment has been a blast. From Dairy Queen, to Rib Festivals, to Wonderland and pancakes on Canada Day all I can say is I’m glad they have a gym on premises.

My only concerns whilst here are identity crisis and neck spasms. Never have I worked with so many Brendan derivatives. On Outreach and Discovery there are two Brendan’s and a Brent. So to help combat this I am Bren. But with three of us, all sounding so similar by name and all regularly being called upon it is hard to fight twenty-four years of programming. I still turn to any of the above-mentioned names. My fear is soon my head will twist off.

- Brendan