Posts Tagged ‘Zookeeping’

An Encounter with a Great Blue Heron!

May 23, 2010

Bettina Bergh                     610 words

2140 Battle Row

Augusta, GA 30904-3502

Phone: (706) 733-4012

An Encounter with a Great Blue Heron


Bettina Bergh

One day when I was at work, I got a call that someone had a great blue heron and was bringing it in for my boss. My boss, Stu, had a game preserve of his own a few miles away, but didn’t have a big enough cage ready for the heron, so he put it in a large cardboard carton with a big bowl of water and a box full of thawed herring in it, and left it overnight at the museum.

The next morning when I came in, I checked all of the cages to make sure the animals were OK, and then went to the heron’s room. I opened the door, walked in, and was greeted by a strong fishy smell, and a very indignant three-and-a-half foot tall bird that had ripped the carton to shreds. The heron immediately flew up on the counter and tried to escape through the windows that ran the length of the room. He then pooped a large fishy mess all over the counter, jumped back down and tried to get away from me. All the while it was making loud honking and croaking noises, as it indicated its displeasure.

I retreated and spoke with my boss. We found a large wooden crate to temporarily put the heron. Then, he left for a meeting, and I went back in wearing a leather jacket and thick leather linemen’s gloves to catch the bird.

The next hour was slapstick comedy. I tried to corner the heron. It escaped from me, and I nearly fell repeatedly in the slippery mess on the floor.  We ran in circles around the room, the bird flying and jumping, and me careening on the increasingly messy floor. I would nearly corner the bird, and then it would try to peck me in the face with its sword-like ten inch bill. I couldn’t get very close to it since I had the no eye protection, and my arms weren’t as long as its neck and beak. But, I did get close enough to get smacked repeatedly with its long wings.

I was really getting worried about how I was going to catch this bird, when it tried to escape under a 4 legged chair, and got stuck. Its head and neck were on one side of the chair, but its wings and legs were frantically flailing on the other side, as the bird pooped some more on the floor. I was on the heron in a second, and managed to get one arm around its wings, and get the other hand around its beak. Slowly, the heron and I retreated, sliding all the while, until I managed to wrestle it into the crate.

I was tired, sweaty and smelled of the fishy droppings on my pants and boots. But, there was still a big job that had to be done. I had to clean up all of the counters and tables in the room, and mop the floor.

It was about an hour later, when I left the museum to go home, shower and change my clothes. I passed a group of school kids who were coming in for a tour of the museum. “Yuck, what’s that smell?” a boy shrieked as he passed me, while a nearby girl backed up and held her nose. The neat line of children made loud derogatory noises and scattered as I, a very fragrant zookeeper walked past to my car.  I think we were all quite glad we were going in different directions!


A Raccoon Story.

May 23, 2010

Bettina Bergh                                                                             760 words

2140 Battle Row

Augusta, Georgia 30904-3502

Phone and Fax: (706) 733-4012

A Raccoon Story


Bettina Bergh

When I was a zookeeper back in the early seventies, I had the pleasure of dealing with a fairly tame raccoon who lived in an outside cage. I thoroughly enjoyed the times when I could take her out on a leash and use her in animal demonstrations or just let her explore the museum grounds. Raccoons are very intelligent and insatiably curious about anything and everything around them. Every object that they get their hands on, they dunk in water if it’s nearby. Within minutes of feeding them, their rations are dissolved in water as they explore the more solid chunks of food. Raccoons are messy because of this habit, but one forgives them for they are so enjoyable to watch.

One day I took the female out of her cage, and took her up to the main building where food was prepared. In the food room we had quite a few cages of animals on shelves along the walls. Before I knew it, she slid out of her collar and scampered onto one set of shelves where we had 20 mouse cages. She began dumping them on the floor. Suddenly, there was one raccoon and 30 mice running around the room.

When handling an excited raccoon, it’s a wise precaution to have heavy linesman’s gloves on. I had left mine out near her cage, so I had to run back down the stairs and get them- all of the while hearing CRASH, CRASH, as she dumped more cages on the floor.

In spite of valiant efforts on her part to escape my grasp, I managed to get the raccoon back into her cage. She was not happy and let me know by chirring and squealing all of the way there.

I dashed back upstairs, and started chasing down what seemed to be over a hundred mice running around the room. Several small hawks and owls were hooting and calling as they watched this maelstrom of hawk and owl hor d’oeuvres running around the room.

I grabbed and grabbed mice and dumped them into cages. I moved garbage cans and the refrigerator, and grabbed at least 15 more. I ran a broom behind the shelves, and more mice scurried out. Just when I thought I had them all, I heard more squeaking coming from the cabinets under the counter where we mixed the food. This meant I now had to empty the cabinets and lift up their bottom shelves giving the mice plenty of time to scurry off in yet another direction. Naturally, there were no mice under the sink where I could easily check for them. I had to leave for about an hour because it was time to feed and clean-up after some other animals.  When I returned, it was obvious from the occasional squeak, that there still were escapees loose in the room.

I spoke to my supervisor about the mice still at large. We decided it would be in our best interest to set out mouse traps. We managed to trap four more mice in the next few days. In a few days I thought I smelled something funny. I looked and looked but didn’t find anything suspicious. It was soon obvious that we had a dead mouse in the room- and pinpointed the smell coming from the cabinets. I was the only one small enough who could fit in the space. I crawled into the cabinet and found a very ripe mouse stuck in one of the traps. I grabbed the trap, got up, and dashed outside to the dumpster and threw in the trap and the contents.

Several days later, I again brought the raccoon inside on a leash for another animal demonstration. This time I was smart and carried my linesman’s gloves with me. I checked to make sure that she couldn’t slide the leash backwards over her head. As I brought her up the stairs, she tugged at the leash as we headed down the hallway, for she wanted to get to the mouse cages again, since raccoons have excellent memories. I pulled out a piece of apple from my pocket and to my relief, she continued along the hallway and ate her treat. I had to repeat this several times to refocus her attention before she stopped trying to get to the mice again. And fortunately, she never got off of her leash again when I had her out of the cage.