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Archive for Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lion man: Zookeeper tends to wild side at KC exhibit

Tim Wild, of Kansas City, Mo., has worked at the Kansas City Zoo for nine years and oversees the large African animals. Here he is shown in front of the lion section of the zoo.

Tim Wild, of Kansas City, Mo., has worked at the Kansas City Zoo for nine years and oversees the large African animals. Here he is shown in front of the lion section of the zoo.

July 15, 2008

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About this series

Welcome to KidQuestions, a new occasional series in the Journal-World. We'll find a person with a cool job, and then ask kids what they'd like to know about that person, or what it's like to do that job. This week, we feature Tim Wild, a lionkeeper at the Kansas City Zoo.

Next time: Kansas City Royals outfielder Mark Teahen. To ask a question about what it's like to be a Major League baseball player, send an e-mail to Terry Rombeck using this KidQuestions form.

For a guy who works with lions, Tim Wild has a great last name.

Wild is the lead zookeeper in the African Savannah section of the Kansas City Zoo. That means he takes care of the zoo's lions, among other animals.

We had third- and fourth-graders at the Pinckney School's Boys & Girls Club come up with their best questions for Wild, to find out more about what it takes to be a lionkeeper.

Q: When did you become a lionkeeper?

I have been working at the zoo for almost 10 years now. About five years ago I was asked to cross-train in the lion area since it was close to the area I was in and they needed more people who could do the routine if needed. I was actually pretty happy to be able to do this as I have always been interested in big cats but never had a chance to work with them before.

Q. How do you become a lionkeeper?

A. I have a degree in zoology. Most people working in zoos these days have some kind of degree in biological sciences or animal science. Since I was already a zookeeper here at the zoo I only spent a couple of weeks to get trained in the lion routine, which includes all of the other small animals around that part of the zoo, too.

Getting a job in a zoo is hard since a lot of people want to do it. I had a lot of volunteer experience and my education to get my foot in the door, and once I got the job just used my increasing experience to keep moving up.

Q. Do you work with other animals besides lions?

A. Yeah, I am actually the area supervisor over the part of the zoo that included rhinos, giraffe, zebras, antelope and a lot of small animals like meerkats, servals and so on. I have been working with all of these species for about seven years.

Q. Where do you get the lions from?

A. Our adult male lion came from another zoo, and our two oldest females were imported from Africa. All of the others that we currently have were born here.

Q. How many big cats have you worked with?

A. Just these lions, and it was a big privilege to be a part of the area when the last litter was born three years ago. Getting that experience was a great opportunity to learn about breeding big cats.

Q. Do you train the lions?

A. I don't personally, but some of the keepers that work for me do. Mostly we train them to go into a squeeze cage and accept veterinary procedures voluntarily, like blood draws, ultrasounds, vaccines, etc.

Q. Have you ever been hurt by a lion or other animal?

A. Not too bad, just a couple of small scratches or bites from some of the smaller animals.

Q. Are the lions like my cat at home?

A. They are definitely not domesticated and would not be safe to be around without their caging. On the other hand, their behavior has a lot in common with other cats.

Q. Do the different lions have different personalities?

A. Yes, our adult male is very laid-back and afraid to go out in the rain. Our wild-caught females are the most aggressive, and the offspring have quite a range of personalities. Some are much more likely to interact with people, some are more standoffish, and one in particular loves to play with toys more than any of the others.

Q. What do lions eat?

A. Mostly raw beef, between 1.7 and 3 kilograms per animal per day. They also get a special large feline chow mixed in.

Q. Are lions friends with any other type of animal?

A. Nope, not at all.

Q. Do lions purr?

A. No, most big cats can't purr.

Q. What's the best thing about being a lion keeper?

A. I like working at the zoo a lot just to be around the animals. I am very interested in watching animal behavior, so even if I'm not interacting with them, I just like working around them and watching them. As the only social cat, lions are especially fun because they are always interacting with each other and still like to play even when they are adult.

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