Magazine article Management Today

The Sharp End: My Day of the Jackal

Magazine article Management Today

The Sharp End: My Day of the Jackal

Article excerpt

A shift as assistant keeper at Colchester Zoo tests Dave Waller's animal charm.

The Sharp End has gone to the dogs. Specifically, the canine section at Colchester Zoo. I am to be an assistant zookeeper for the day, dancing with Iberian wolves, the black-backed jackals and African hunting dogs, the most efficient killers in the animal kingdom. Will I be waving a premature farewell to the pages of MT?

I arrive as the rising sun burns the mist from the fields, and soon learn that my concerns are unfounded. Jackals are timid, and the hunting dogs are so dangerous that the keepers never enter their enclosure without securing them elsewhere first.

Adam, the 34-year-old head of the section, explains this as we watch Gilberto, the zoo's lolloping anteater, crapping in his own pond water Despite appearances, he is one to be wary of. Anteaters have claws the size of human fingers, and arms that can lift nine stone. Adam once saw Gilberto coming at him on his hind legs, screaming and swinging his claws, and had to fend him off with a broom. A keeper in Argentina was killed in a similar attack, says Adam, relishing the phrase embracio del muerte - the embrace of death. Johnny Morris never mentioned that.

Even so, there is a romance around working with animals - Colchester gets five on-spec job applications a day. And, for a while, things do get cuddlier. Adam gives me a backstage tour of the dog section, which is also home to several non-canine species. I meet the red pandas and the gremlin-like, cotton-topped tamarins. Animals freak out when a strange face shows up, as it usually belongs to a vet. The macaques bare their teeth and hiss at me. I jeer back but it doesn't seem to help.

Visitors are scarce on this chilly winter Monday, but there's much to do. Our first job is to clean out the red panda pen. Adam had warned me that these timid bamboo-eaters tend to 'produce more than they consume'. I don the rubber gloves and scoop with wonderment. Then we go to give Benson the bearcat his lunch. A piece of banana elicits no interest, but his eyes bulge when he clocks a yellow-feathered chick lying dead in my bowl. I hold it by a wrinkled claw and he clamps it in his teeth. Down it goes. Easter comes early for Benson.

I play several roles. As well as the catering, there's nursing - feeding medicine to Jessica, the geriatric macaque, on a banana. …

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