A visit to Dickerson Park Zoo is about a lot more than seeing animals from all over the world. Patrons will also see beautiful landscaping, hear unusual sounds and learn important lessons
about conservation. All that wouldn’t be possible without the zookeepers who keep the hundreds of animals at the 70-acre zoo safe, clean and healthy.
Brock Andrus, one of about 20 zookeepers at the city-owned zoo, said an amazing amount of work goes into caring for the animals from the tiny creatures in the reptile house to the massive elephants in the Tropical Asia area.
Zookeeper Brock Andrus checks Patience the elephant for arthritis.
“I see these animals more than I see my own family,” Andrus said, laughing. “The food they get is better than what I get. The medical care is better.”
Along with feeding the animals and keeping enclosures clean, zookeepers frequently check the animals’ entire bodies to look for injuries, signs of disease and even mental health issues.
You might, for example, see Andrus working with Patience, an elephant who has reached her golden years, on what look like yoga poses. While the stretching is good for Patience, the moves are actually designed to allow Andrus to examine her feet and check her joints for signs of arthritis.
“It’s not all scooping poop,” said Andrus, whose work attire includes knee-high rubber boots so he can easily hose off the aforementioned substance when the need arises.
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Tour the World
The river otters are a popular zoo attraction.
Throughout the zoo, animals are grouped by their native geographic regions, including Africa, Australia, Asia, South America, North America and even a section with white-tailed deer, bobcats, black bears, otters and other creatures native to the Ozarks. No matter which part of the world you’re visiting at the zoo, you’ll see examples of zookeepers taking care of the animals from cleaning enclosures to veterinary care.
While it may look like regular animal care, what you’re seeing could be part of a research project, the results of which will be used to keep animals all over the world healthier. In 2021, a month-long study was conducted with giraffes to determine how well a pour-on antiparasitic medication worked. If the study shows the product works well, it could be used to treat giraffes in human care and in the wild to prevent parasites and the diseases they carry, said zookeeper Matt Corrie who drew blood from the long-necked animals periodically so it could be analyzed.
On the subject of giraffes, be sure to see the baby that was born in September 2021! It’s adorable. Another important part of zookeepers’ jobs at Dickerson Park Zoo is presenting programs to educate the public about the animals and their habitats.
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Those lessons, in fact, are among the most important functions of the zoo, said general curator Ken Harmon who oversees the team of zookeepers. “People come to see the animals but aren’t aware of the education side of it,” Harmon said.
If educational programs are what you’re looking for, be sure to check the calendar at DickersonParkZoo.org. Programs for kids of all ages are offered year-round and in various parts of the zoo.