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Saturday Morning in Jungle Trails

Thane sweeping in Jungle Trails

Sweeping in Jungle Trails

On Saturday mornings I try to get it on my schedule to come in and work with the keepers in different areas of the zoo.  Of course it’s good for me to get a sense of what’s really going on out in the zoo; it’s fun to hang with the keepers and hear their concerns and aspirations; and the coolest part, naturally, is being with the animals.

The funny part is every week I’m the one who learns things.  Such as when I first started doing this back in ’08 I actually thought I’d be of some help.  Perhaps like a rookie Peace Corps volunteer, all eager to help.  But I soon learned through good spirited joshing, keepers teasing about how much I talk, and the old zoo rumor mill, that I actually slow down the whole routine of morning cleaning and feeding.  So much so that the really bold keepers even have to clock in for overtime to get everything done at the end of the day I’m helping!

But hey, I’m getting faster, I swear I am.

So, here’s what it looks like.  I show up at 7am, but I never seem to be the first one there.  (I suspect it’s because at least one keeper comes in at 6 to get a head start to make up for my distraction, but nobody lets on).  I stick with them until noon, when it’s lunch time for everybody, and frankly I’m whipped by then anyway.

One of my big lessons every week, as you might expect, is that animals are messy.

I swear it takes more elbow grease and bleach to clean up after one night in a rhino or bonobo stall than a whole year of our dog & cats at home.

Last Saturday I started my 2011 rounds working in the Africa building of our Jungle Trails exhibit.  That meant cleaning and feeding a variety of primates, from Angolan colobus monkeys to bonobos from the Congo.  (Note to self for future reference: great apes are way messier than monkeys, in case you have a choice of cages to clean).

I worked most of the morning with Janet Hutson, who has been a keeper at the Cincinnati Zoo for 12 years.  She was patient with my cautious slowness, and did a good job of keeping me out of arms reach of quick-grabbing apes.  She knows the animals individually, interacting with each, which is remarkable to see.  (And she can cut up vegetables 10 times faster than I).

Thane Hosing Indoor Area of Jungle Trails

Thane Hosing Indoor Area of Jungle Trails

The funniest moment of the morning was when our Mammal Curator, Mike Dulaney, came through on his morning rounds.  When I stopped to talk with him I (incorrectly) dropped the hose on the floor, which flipped the nozzle on high, spraying water all over Mike’s legs and everything else in sight like a wild, loose snake.  This of course got me the standard lecture about not dropping the hose, mostly because the nozzles cost $15 each and are fragile, and also because everybody gets wet.

I’m pretty sure the animals got a kick out of all the commotion though, so all was not wasted.

And the highlight of the day, for sure, was spending time up close to such amazing animals.  How those long-haired monkeys have such beautiful hair with no Pantene I’ve never figured out.  But such ‘fitness signals’ as healthy looking hair are essential to attracting a mate, so clearly we have all evolved to put a high priority on looking good.

Bonobos in Jungle Trails

Bonobos in Jungle Trails

The bonobos, of course, are our closest relatives, so spending the morning with them is both remarkable and thought provoking.  They live in incredibly close knit family groups, and right now we have 3 baby bonobos among our troop of 12 animals, so it makes for a raucous scene once we hide treats like orange slices and sunflower seeds amongst the netting and bedding in their cages.

We shift different animals on and off exhibit this time of year, since it’s too cold for most primates outside right now.  So come over to the zoo this winter and visit Jungle Trails.  The animals really will be glad to see you.  They are very aware of the people and pretty much everything around them.

I think you’d find it fascinating.

I certainly do.

See you at the Zoo,



1 Netta { 01.27.11 at 2:58 am }


“I’m pretty sure the animals got a kick out of all the commotion though, so all was not wasted.” I like this comment. It’s shows you do love the animals. I am sure at times they like to see the hullabaloo. Bet you enjoy it at times yourself.

Just like cleaning after baby poopey, I am sure cleaning up animal poopey is not that glamour’s or a high profile job at the zoo. Here is the truth about it, with out you and the others that clean up after our loved animal’s at the zoo, you are important to the whole design of the zoo. You are needed and greatly appreciated.

Be safe around the apes, so they don’t reach out and put the touch on you!

Love The Cincinnati Zoo,


2 Carole Feeny { 01.27.11 at 3:15 am }

This sounds like a blast and should be offered at a silent auction or as a fund raiser for other participants.

3 Anonymous { 01.27.11 at 9:05 am }

I worked many years in animal medicine, even interning at the zoo in the seventies with then zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Theobald. I therefore have a great appreciation of the incredibly hard and important work the zoo keepers and animal health personnel do each and every day. I think it is commendable for the bossman to see all of this up close and personal to get a hands on appreciation for those folks who help keep our zoo one of the best anywhere.

4 Caitlin Davignon { 01.27.11 at 9:20 am }

Dear Thane
Thanks for sharing the story of your day. I loved hearing it!
Your friend, Caitlin Davignon

5 Michelle Curley { 01.27.11 at 9:06 pm }

That’s a good idea!

6 Mike { 01.30.11 at 5:25 am }

Interesting! I hope that everyone’s Saturday is going great and I hope that they have a great week! Thane, I wish that I had your job. I would love to work with anmals!

7 Joe Theobald { 02.03.11 at 8:20 am }

It nice to stay connected to activities at the zoo and happy to see my father mentioned (Dr. Jerry Theobald). I was a young child in the 70’s and recall many fun trips to the zoo. In 2006, I toured the zoo again with my wife and 2 kids and with Dad. It was awesome. Keep up the good work.

8 N.J. Webel { 04.09.11 at 3:29 am }

Thane–I love hearing your stories! I miss seeing you around the zoo, so this reminds me and keeps me abreast of your doings. The zoo is doing fantastically under your “watch” and I’m tickled that YOU are “in charge”–whatever that means! The all day camps are particularly neat for kids–Devvie (Erica’s daughter) just finished the Animal behavior one. Outstanding! She LOVES the zoo, as all my kids have. I sorely miss involvement in teaching, but my health is poor now. But keep up the work and blogging–it is appreciated. N.J. Webel

9 CAROL { 04.15.11 at 11:32 pm }

I visited the Bonobo’s one week day and 2 of the babies were up against the glass with one of the moms. A younger child with his parents stopped and for some reason he was carrying a small branch will leaves attached.
He touched the glass with it and the 2 babies immediately tried to “touch it” At the same time, the mom lying on her back with her feet close to the glass,kept kicking at the branch as if to push it away from the babies. they are so aware of their environment.
I’m at the zoo at least 2 times a week if possible.

10 elizabeth { 08.28.11 at 2:09 pm }

I soooo love listening to you talk about the animals. I was so excited to see you talking to a group of people when we were at the Zoo Saturday (Aug 27,2011). You can tell by listening you are really enjoying talking about the Zoo. I cant wait until the new cat exhibits open. I hope you can help find out ways to save the Polar Bears. We have lost to many animals that the future generations will never get to see.

11 Pam { 12.07.11 at 5:42 pm }

Thane, I love reading your blogs. I echo the sentiments about how great it is that you are are hands on with what it takes to care for these beautiful animals. From caring for horses I know they are a 7 days a week 24 hour a day job, but my dream would be to care for the bonobo no matter how hard or dirty the job. Every visit I make to the zoo includes hours watching them – especially the babies!

Thanks – keep blogging!

12 Carol { 04.21.12 at 4:23 am }

The lovely story was about the Jungle Trails at the zoo and the gentlmen whom works with and cleans up, among other conversation. Looks like the last few blogs got into the wrong conversation. Maybe retuning to school would help regarding how to stay on the topic of conversation. But mainly no one cares what jibberish your writing about anyway.

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