Day One

As tends to be my luck, something always has to happen. It seems as though things just can’t run smoothly around me. Not that it’s always a disaster, but when it rains it pours, and several small things seem to build upon each other until you can’t help but laugh and throw your hands in the air- it is what it is! This is my first day on the trails, and I think it sets an accurate scene for day-to-day life on the trail. Enjoy!

After a full five days of training, Susanah and I were both scheduled our very first solo days the next morning. When I arrived at 8:45, I picked up Tiger Bridge and headed dut to see my Belvedere animals and hopefully a tiger before they went to sleep in the shade for the day. Sohni was out walking around, smelling the grasses and re-scenting her territory while I had antelope and geese wandering around on the other side of the bridge. Now, I am still pretty green on the trails, but at least now I’m fairly comfortable using the radio, and that first day threw me right in the deep end. Most of our enclosures are open air- the monkeys, bats, and of course the aviary all have mesh fences over the top for the safety of the animals within-but besides having the fencing over the top, they are still open to the elements. The tiger enclosures as well as the Komodo Dragon and all of the hoofstock are out in large open areas which means that while we have our animals from the trails in the habitats, wild birds and other creatures can easily land in there as well. Can you see where this is going yet?

So here I am, sweet little Effie, brand new to the trails standing on bridge and talking about the beautiful tiger who is out walking around when all of a sudden a wild duck makes a huge splash landing into the water. Immediately, Sohni who was busy sniffing at something up on her little incline turned her head and locked in on her new target. While she dropped into a crouch and began to stalk her way down the hill, this duck was busy swimming back and forth minding his own, no idea that he had certainly landed on the absolute wrong side of the fence. I was starting to become nervous, not only because I had a crowd gathering to watch this duck’s impending doom, but also because I knew I was supposed to call the animal keepers if anything out of the ordinary happened, but I wasn’t confident in how to use the radio. So as I fumbled with my device debating whether to tell someone before the inevitable happened or after, I was also desperately trying to divert the traffic. Which, of course, was hopeless.

Sohni, our female Sumatran tiger

I mean really, if you had the chance to watch a tiger stalk her prey, could anything really tear you away? So here I am with about 40 people standing on the tiger side of bridge all pressed against the fence to watch a tiger demolish a poor helpless duck. And while it would be pretty cool to see her succeed, it would also be terrifying to have children watching Mother Nature in all her glory.


“Hi folks, so on this side of the bridge you can currently see our female tiger. There is a duck in her enclosure so you might get to see some natural behaviors if you continue to watch. If you or your children don’t want to see that kind of thing, you can look to the other side of the fence and see the Blackbuck Antelope and the Bar-Headed Geese!”

The duck finally had caught on to his impending doom and had tried to escape twice already, flying up and into the fence in a way that made my stomach turn as he flopped back down into the water. Just as I was plucking up the courage to radio in the call, I heard a huge sigh of relief from the crowd and I heard someone say, “oh good, he got away!” I let out my own huge sigh and felt my shoulders slump as Sohni sauntered back up the hill and the crowd began to thin out. I considered myself extremely lucky, and the rest of the day flew by without incident (mostly).

Lima, the Komodo Dragon in question

The end of the day came and I pulled rotation, which meant I was going to be in the aviary. While I was in there, I did have to use the radio- one of the nests that hung over the pathway had fallen and I needed to let one of the keepers know. By calling it in, I ended up on the wrong radio channel, which is how I ended up hearing what happened over at Canyon 1 to Susanah.

“Trails 71 from Canyon One… Trails 71 from Canyon One….” another couple minutes went by and then again, “Trails 71 from Canyon One….” I was wondering why no one was answering (because no one but me was actually on that channel) and also what was so urgent at the Komodo Dragon for Susanah to be calling so frequently. Finally, after a couple of minutes,

“Cayon One from Trails 71, go ahead…”
Yeah, um…. the Komodo just ate a squirrel….”
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”
“The Komodo ate a squirrel….”
“Okay. Um, I’ll call animal control and head over to you, thanks.”

Here I am in the aviary pretty certain that I had just heard that the Komodo just ate an animal, but I couldn’t be certain. The last 45 minutes drug by as I was insanely curious to find out what had happened. When I had finally made my way back to the front of the trail, Susanah just gave me a look, and I knew I had heard correctly. Apparently, while she had been standing there talking to a guest about Lima, the Komodo swallowed the squirrel that had been running around in her habitat just like popping a handful of M&M’s. She was only slightly traumatized.

When the day ended, we had made it though- mostly unscathed. We were, and still are, excited to be on the trail, but after being thrown into the fire on that first day, we pretty much don’t look twice at any of the animal behavior anymore. We’ve seen some embarrassing things, like the monkeys mating right in front of the viewing window, and we’ve dealt with some even more embarrassing guest situations, like all of the times people have climbed on the fencing and almost fallen into various animal habitats. You can’t really beat first day jitters and you definitely can’t top having to explain the wild behaviors of animals you have only just learned about. It’s never a dull day on the trails, that much is certain.

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