Zookeepers Reveal The Dark, Low-Down, Dirty Inside Secrets Of Zoos

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

Angry lion standing way too close

Angry lion standing way too close. Image credit: Mikhail Kolesnikov/

"The most dangerous and feared animal in case of an escape is not, as you may think, lions, tigers, or other large carnivores. It's the chimps," Reddit user ShadyElmm wrote in a sentence that sums up the tone of the creepy zoo-based thread to come. "Those things will rip your arm off and beat you to death with the bloody end as soon as they look at you."

A few days ago, a user called gomi-panda asked zookeepers on Reddit "What's the low-down, dirty, inside scoop on zoos?". It turns out, there's a lot of things going on behind the scenes (and occasionally, in front of them) that you really don't want to know about if the replies are anything to go by. Below are a selection of our favorites.



"I had to draft the zoo's contingency plan for all sorts of emergencies," dogsfrogsmonologues wrote. "Flood, tornado, extreme heat, war or attacks, you name it. The plan included a prioritized list of which animals in the collection we would have to sacrifice to feed to the other animals in extreme situations. I literally created a zoo food chain. Humans were left off the list entirely."

Groundhog Day 

"Animals sometimes kill other animals and there really isn't much that can be done about it," quantumofennui wrote. "I remember when a groundhog made it into a chimpanzee exhibit and the baby of the group found it. She caught it and played with it for a long time. Eventually, to keep it from running away, the baby beat it to death right beside the viewing windows. She then held it like a stuffed teddy bear for another half an hour, dragging it around with her when she went to forage. Mind you, this happened right in front of a group of school children. I was in the viewing area and a teacher/chaperone insisted that I 'do something'. Like, what? Ma'am, that's a chimpanzee; nobody's doing anything."


On the bright side: "The kids actually learned something on that trip to the zoo, though."


"I used to volunteer weekly at a large zoo and at one point management started doing monthly dangerous animal escape drills," thebourgeoisiee wrote. "Someone would run around in a lion onesie and we’d have to react as if one of the large animals had escaped. It was hilarious but one of the funniest things I was taught was that if an incident did occur you have to tell the nearby guests to get inside only once. If after that they refuse to follow you indoors (the protocol was to hole up in the large activity center buildings), you’re to leave them there, go inside yourself and lock the doors. It makes sense because people can be very stupid and you don’t want to risk everyone’s lives because of one Karen, but it amused me no end that the protocol was to just let them get mauled."

If you haven't seen these simulations, you should definitely check them out.



"I heard about this from a coworker at a small zoo I used to work at," OverdueFetus wrote. "If any animal escapes before the zoo opens to the public, the zoo is supposed to shut down completely for the day. Often though for smaller zoos they can’t afford to lose a day open to the public, so if some specific types of animals escape (such as reptiles or small animals) they will just keep open while having keepers look for the animal. This sort of thing wouldn’t fly by me on my days as a keeper (I never had anything escape other than a harmless tortoise), but I remember hearing from other coworkers that they just listened to our boss and opened even though a small but somewhat venomous snake was on the loose."

"Next time you go to the zoo, ask someone which animals are 'kill on sight' in an escape," Nytherion added. "The answers will surprise you. Lions and tigers are typically on the 'tranq and capture' list, but a jaguar the size of a golden retriever is 'KoS.' The zoo I was with, the two jags were the only animals on site that were on the shoot-to-kill list. Even the silverback was on the tranq-first list."

There are jobs worse than cleaning out dung


"Aquariums have captive breeding programs for some of the dolphins and whales, but they are too difficult to transport for mating," plaid-lemming wrote. "So they have to use artificial insemination. Which requires semen samples from whales. Which means that it's someone's job to give handjobs to dolphins and whales in order to collect the sperm. It's part of the animal's training, and the whales will roll over and present their genitals on command."

See also: 


The circle of life

"There was one particularly traumatic event with the lions on a very warm and very packed spring day," ballerina22 wrote. "The zoo was inside a large park, so various wild animals wandered through the zoo all day. One unfortunate day, a large deer fell into the lion enclosure. The adolescent male stalked it and ran it down within about 30 seconds and tore the deer to shreds. In front of dozens of horrified adults and screaming kids. I felt kind of bad that so many people saw, but like, circle of life."


And finally, the bucket

"I worked with large tortoises. We had these five-gallon buckets for cleaning the poop out of enclosures, and other buckets for feeding them fresh grass we cut," DrTeethDDS wrote.

"The first day on the job I took both buckets into the pen and started by dumping out the grass. Then I went around to collect poop. I heard this awful loud grunting and something breaking. One of the 300 lb males tried to bang the bucket in front of visitors and flattened it. He would even follow me around just in case I might leave more innocent buckets unattended."

Check out the rest of the thread here, it's well worth your time.


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