The intrepid Alexi Duggins, always at your mercy, feeds the animals in London Zoo…
Last week, one of my colleagues saw a little girl reading this column. The girl began giggling. Her dad looked over and spotted a photo of naked male buttocks. The magazine was promptly whisked away. Excellent parenting all round. Or it would’ve been. But he then changed his mind and returned my puerile bilge to her.
So let me be clear this week, parents: if your child wants to be a zookeeper, do not let them read this. It will shatter their dreams. For them, zookeeping is wall-to-wall panda cuddles. It is singalongs with chirpy lion royalty. It’s piggyback rides with jive-talking orangutans.
Yeah, right. ‘Don’t worry, you won’t catch any diseases from zebra poo,’ explains Marcel, my guide on a halfday experience as a keeper at London Zoo, as we start our morning shovel deep in a quadruped’s bum rubbish. And just to ram home the point, he whisks us off to scrub at penguin turd.
Forget their funny walk. Ignore their excellent biscuit range. Judging by the mad little bastard who follows our group of would-be keepers round as we clear his pool, penguins are nasty little buggers. One girl’s red wellies are pecked at constantly, another nearly loses a finger when she tries to stroke Nasty Pingu and, given the smell, penguins apparently crap rancid anchovy paste. Zookeeper for a day? Poo-keeper more like.
Fortunately, it’s soon feeding time, so we get to visit an adorable meerkat posse. They’re so fluffy they look like cuddly toys and their falsetto purring could melt the coldest of hearts. Which would make for a lovely experience if feeding them didn’t involve plunging your hand into a plastic bag of squirming locusts.
Thank Christ, then, for bearded pigs. It’s deep breaths all round as we’re asked to prepare their dinner and then deep sighs of relief as we’re handed fruit and veg to chop. When we’re done, Marcel asks if we’d like to give them a snack. ‘Please!’ we chorus. ‘Okay,’ he grins, producing a bucket. ‘Just fling these dead mice at them.’
By now, our time’s almost up and we haven’t touched a single animal. So as we enter the primate house and a sweet little emperor monkey hops onto a railing, I reach out. ‘Don’t! He’ll bite!’ hisses Marcel. Twenty minutes later, I try my luck in the butterfly house. ‘Don’t! If you brush the powder off their wings, they die!’ Then comes the giraffe enclosure. ‘Don’t! You’ll spook her!’ Having now missed my last stroking opportunity, I hang my head. ‘Come on, do you want to freak the poor thing out?’ asks Marcel. Hmm, best not. What with the little girl from last week, I’ve probably freaked out enough poor creatures.
Think you could do any better than Alexi as a zookeeper? Visit www.zsl.org/keeperforaday