A while ago I was in my doctors office and saw a National Geographic that talked about animal recognition. It stated that “A team of British scientists has shown that sheep are able to recognize the individual faces of at least 50 sheep and remember them for more than two years.” I then started to think if sheep can do this with other sheep, do we think that the rest of our animals including the sheep recognize members of the animal department and can distinguish them from guests?
I got some information from my fellow keepers. Lets start off with what a “keeper” is. A keeper is someone in a purple shirt and 20 million keys jingling from our belts.
Each individual keeper has a different size, smell, voice,hair length and we don’t all walk in the same pattern so our keys sound different. So, lets put this into our everyday routine.
Farmyard: Max the steer:always seems to know when a keeper is in the farmyard. He screams and “moos” like he is dying of starvation and needs to be fed before he wilts away.This happens before he can even see me appear. Do the other animals that have seen me give it away and act differently and this tips Max off? Can he smell me? When I walk or pass him while on the main path and he is looking out his stall door he stares at me and follows me as I walk by and “moos.”
Scout the duck: Most birds do not have that great of a smell system. When he hears me or other keepers, he gets up from wherever he is and starts to make noises and gets excited. If there are guests standing around him and he is laying down he spots a keeper and again becomes excited.
Sheep: Wilco sheep can tell us keepers from the public all the time. With her, I think its visual because as soon as she spots a keeper in a uniform or WITHOUT a uniform on she bleats and comes over to us.
Lightning the donkey: can recognize keepers in uniform and out of uniform.
Carolina Wildlife-Henry Woodchuck knows the keepers individually and has his favorites coughme and dislikes Aaron and Marilyn.
Barred Owls: Know the difference with keepers from the public in and out of uniform. I have visited the museum on my days off and notice that the owls will spot me and follow me with their eyes and single me out of a group of people.
Explore the Wild-Our black bears usually will make an appearance when they hear the keepers talking during one of their programs. There could be a crowd of people talking and the bears have no reaction until the voice of the keeper appears. If they aren’t too hot to move the bears will come to the overlook seeing if there is something good to eat.
So, in conclusion I think certain animals recognize keepers and people in different ways. I think no matter how they do it all the keepers feel better when one of our animals can tell who we are.