Hey, Hemingway: Be Keeper for a Day at London Zoo

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Imagine the rough and tumble life of a wild animal trainer: Getting dressed up in overalls and boots, a tranq rifle strapped to your back, ready to stroll out onto the veldt to challenge the vicious beasts.

Now, get over yourself there, big game punter. Being Keeper for a Day at the London Zoo is absolutely nothing like that. Rather than unleashing your inner-Hemingway, it’s more in tune with the spirit of Mr. Rogers or Jane Goodall. It’s a chance to get behind the scenes at a zoo. If you’re like me, you’ve really wanted to do that since Mom and Dad first took you to see the gorillas or whatever you local beastial attractions were.

The London Zoo (technically The Zoological Society of London) allows travelers and local visitors to assume the role of an assistant zookeeper for a day. The privilege costs £280 (less with a zoo membership) and provides a full day of experiences.

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After trying out some of the experiences, I can tell you it’s exciting and somewhat realistic in re-creating a keeper’s day. It’s not all glamour as the substitute keeper might have to muck out the penguins or survive the peck of an emu. I fed both of those bird species before checking in on the tortoises, kangaroos and giraffes. The latter were the day’s big (literally) finale, and I ended up spending extra time getting to know them and their voracious eating habits.

Along the way, London Zoo staff – the folks who do this work every day – were on hand to make sure I stayed safe, focused and well-informed. Besides getting a chance to see these creatures up close and personal, education is what the Keeper for a Day experience is about at its core. Best of all, rather than stroll through another museum or kill an afternoon visiting a market somewhere, Keeper for a Day is rare experiential tourism at its finest.

For a few glimpses of a day of work at a major international zoo, enjoy the gallery below.