|Gerry Creighton is operations manager for Animals & Grounds at Dublin Zoo.
"I started officially as a zookeeper when I was 15, although it wasn't really my first day on the job. My dad was a keeper and a lot of the keepers' kids spent plenty of time in the zoo. The novelty never wore off; it was such an adventurous playground, and you ran around thinking you were Tarzan. From the time I could walk, I used to go there, so, in many ways, working there was a natural progression. I was counting down the days until I could finish the Inter Cert and work there.
In the mornings, I really hit the ground running. I'm awake from 5am and I switch on the cameras - I have 25 cameras around the zoo that I can access on my phone. I have a coffee, go to the local gym and get into the zoo for about 7.30am. I love morning time at the zoo; it's the most beautiful part of the day. Once I'm there, I make sure the habitats are fine, and I make a list of the places within the zoo that I need to visit. I'll have seen that a gorilla didn't feed overnight, or has a cold or flu, and I'll talk to the keepers and make decisions about that.
In the elephant area, we've a very important routine, and we don't share the same space as them because they function as a herd. Still, we have to provide the best care and check them, and we do that with positive reinforcement. We have to give them extensive pedicures and a hot wash… all on their terms.
Much of the job in general involves liaising with the vet team, working in nutrition and habitat management, doing student talks on zoo conservation, meeting with the public… it's a brilliant job. I've never not walked around in my 31 years here without a bounce in my step. The zoo is in such an exciting phase; it's at the peak of its game and in terms of global standards, out reputation has sky-rocketed in the last decade. I'm aware of where we've been in that past; this was an old-fashioned zoo in the '80s, which we inherited from a previous generation. But now, we're one of the best in the world when it comes to best practice in animal care.
The whole driving force of the zoo is education and conservation, and we have what's called a 'Studbook' database, which is a bit like an international dating agency for elephants. When we got word that our elephants were pregnant, I was like an expectant father. I can't tell you the relief and excitement of the whole team when the first of the calves arrived. It was a hugely emotional event for all of us. Technology is wonderful; we watched it all on CCTV in my office. The other animals let us know when the elephant was about to give birth; the herd was waving their trunks and helping those babies get to their feet.
When I was 16, I started working on the big cats with my father, and I have memories of pushing the meat barrow around the lion house. Everyone my age remembers the lion house. In my early 30s I got a job as a team leader working with the small primates, and it was the most exciting section of the zoo. Chimps, orangutans and gorillas are very interesting and challenging, and need constant stimulation. There are so many different aspects of the zoo, and keepers need different abilities in different areas. I always say that the keepers who look after the reptiles are the most laid-back in the world.
On my days off, the kids always want to come to the zoo, and I love that. It was such a valuable childhood experience for me. Mia is already showing great credentials as a zookeeper; she has three snakes, three turtles and three canaries. I asked her why she wanted three of everything and she said, 'because if one dies, then the other two will always have a friend'. I tend to get home at about 6pm and that's when you have to give the kids your time and focus. They're very active: Mia does synchronised swimming and Zac has his GAA and swimming. We put the kids to bed at different times; Mia goes to bed at 8.30pm, and we look through the zoo cameras. We then decide that, yep, everything looks good for the night.
I tend to be in bed by 9.30pm myself, which probably sounds boring. Every so often, I'll get up and check the zoo cameras - I get an awful slagging from the rest of the team about it. When the elephant calves were on their way, I didn't sleep well at all. I'd wake at 1am, then check the cameras, and then sleep for another couple of hours. But now that they're here, things are thankfully back to normal." For more information, see www.dublinzoo.com.