I was reminiscing with my good friend Rara (you can follow her blog here), and during the course of our conversation, she sent me a short video of a lion cub giving a human a hug. It reminded me of the adolescent male cub I used to work with when I was an assistant zookeeper at Wildlife World Zoo. I started sending Rara various pictures that I have saved on my phone, and she said that I needed to share them here. So here they are along with some relevant thoughts about this chapter in my life.

To start, here is the little fella that prompted the picture-sharing session that I had with Rara. (I’ve been thinking my hardest, and I can’t remember his name. I didn’t work with him directly very much, so I don’t feel so bad about it.)

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When I started working at the zoo, I was brought in as an assistant zookeeper in the Reptiles & Amphibians exhibit. I really didn’t want to be working in that particular exhibit since I don’t particularly care for reptiles or amphibians, but Lance, the zoo’s curator at the time, told me that because of my experience in school (I was studying Animal Physiology and Behavior), he really wanted me to help out there. He promised that if I started working in the Reptiles and Amphibians exhibit, he would move me too another area as soon as he could. So I reluctantly agreed. I knew that I needed the experience, and it would up my chances to get into study abroad programs or other internships later in my career, so I felt like it was a good idea.

My first day there, the very first thing that Mike — the head zookeeper for the reptiles exhibit — did was throw me a pair of keys (they were attached to a very real-looking fake snake), point to a container with a giant boa constrictor in it, and say, “Grab Professor Plum and follow me.”

Uhhhh, what? I had never held or touched a snake before. I didn’t know how on earth to grab the thing…but with all eyes on me, I slowly unlocked the cage, opened the door and reached inside. Professor Plum was coiled up, which made it easier to grab him. I held him like he was a ticking time bomb, not wanting to do anything that would cause him to strike or constrict. Despite my valiant efforts, before we even made it out of the door to the outside section of the exhibit he had started to move and wrap himself around my upper thigh. I did my best not to show my fear, even though I was thinking: OH MY GOD THIS IS HOW MY LIFE WILL END.

Mike led me to a portion of the hallway where there was an exhibit with no glass to protect the public from what was inside. He told me to step into the exhibit and place Professor Plum onto the perch that was located just above my head. I conceded, and Professor Plum willingly slithered onto his branch.

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I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. It must have been obscured by these first moments, and I’m sure that I was overwhelmed with the wealth of information that was piled onto me. Little did I know that this first-day experience would be relatively “normal” compared to other experiences that I would endure during my time working there.

To be continued…