Jihoon Park ~ The Zookeeper’s Guide to Animals

The Tigers

Make sure the tigers’ blind­folds are on at all times. They will eat you, and each oth­er, on sight. The only way our tigers can coex­ist is for them to be unaware of one anoth­er. If one of their blind­folds falls off, shoot that tiger imme­di­ate­ly. Do not stare into its eyes, for the tiger will turn you into stone before going on a ram­page across the zoo.

The Rhinoceros

Our rhi­no is the last of his species. He is always depressed and won’t let you come near him unless you sing him a sooth­ing Bob Dylan song (ear­ly solo works only) fol­lowed by a meal of wild grass­es. Sneak two anti­de­pres­sants into the meal. The rhi­no is gen­er­al­ly harm­less but do not men­tion his wife or chil­dren, as it will result in his trau­mat­ic out­rage and you may get gored by his horn.

The Orangutan

Be wary around the orang­utan. He is very clever. He tricked our last zookeep­er into play­ing a game of pok­er with him one night. The zookeep­er end­ed up los­ing his car, apart­ment com­plex, Miles Davis records, cus­tody of his chil­dren, Monet prints, and 401K. When pass­ing by the enclo­sure, you should wear ear­muffs so the orang­utan can­not poi­son you with his words.

The Crocodiles

The croc­o­diles are in a pit so just throw in the deer car­cass and they’ll divvy it up among them­selves. Some days you may feel a strong com­pul­sion to jump into the pit. Do not do so! You will sure­ly die, and it will be excru­ci­at­ing the whole time you are dying. That is what your zookeep­er rifle is for. When you feel the need, instead of jump­ing into the croc­o­dile pit, point the bar­rel into your mouth and pull the trig­ger. We under­stand that zookeep­ing is a dif­fi­cult job. Many have come before you. Many will come after.

The Elephant

She is an old matri­arch. She’s been around longer than any of the oth­er ani­mals, longer than the zoo itself. Her influ­ence is mon­u­men­tal. She knows every­thing there is to know about the zoo. Sometimes she sits in on our cor­po­rate board meet­ings. She enjoys after­noon tea at 3:00PM. She likes her Earl Grey with a hint of milk but no sug­ar. Make sure you pro­vide her with good con­ver­sa­tion, or she may spread rumors around about you to the oth­er animals.

The Gibbons

Our gib­bons are immense­ly pop­u­lar with our guests. They’re a sweet cou­ple. They auto­graph posters and love pos­ing for pic­tures. Don’t for­get to sneak anti­de­pres­sants into their fruit sal­ads. Just like the rhi­no, our gib­bons are very depressed. They’re just good at hid­ing it. They want­ed a baby, but the female turned out to be infer­tile. She often cares for the oth­er younger ani­mals. She smiles while doing so, telling bed­time sto­ries to the baby lemurs and feed­ing the taran­tu­la hatch­lings and so on, but behind her smile is a ter­ri­ble sad­ness. Do not men­tion her infer­til­i­ty to her or she will gouge out your eyes.

The Aviary

We have over 500 species of birds in our aviary. You’ll notice that all their wings have been clipped off. We do this with every bird at birth so they will nev­er have any false hopes of escape. Their wings go into the food proces­sor. We can’t afford to waste pro­tein. Budget is tight. Attendance is down and dona­tions are slim. People do not care about zoos and ani­mals these days.

The Termites

The ter­mite exhib­it is a self-sus­tain­ing, closed envi­ron­ment. They have a whole soci­ety built. If you have down­time, we rec­om­mend get­ting a mag­ni­fy­ing glass to observe it. The Termite Olympics are breath­tak­ing and take place once a month. The University of Termite has recent­ly devel­oped a par­ti­cle col­lid­er. The Termite Museum of Art show­cas­es the best art­works cre­at­ed by ter­mite hands, although you will need an elec­tron micro­scope to prop­er­ly see the details. Of course, there are also unsa­vory aspects of their world. Crime is ram­pant in the con­gest­ed areas. The ter­mites in the upper tun­nels oppress the ter­mites in the low­er tun­nels through harsh leg­is­la­tion. The ter­mite elec­tions are sup­pos­ed­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic, but it’s clear that they’re rigged. Soon, the ter­mites may devel­op the tech­nol­o­gy to escape from the closed envi­ron­ment and ven­ture into the out­side world. Do not let this hap­pen! The results will be cat­a­stroph­ic. When you notice ter­mites begin­ning to fly around in lit­tle rock­et ships, go ahead and flood the entire exhib­it. This will reset their civilization.

The Dung Beetle

The dung bee­tle ter­rar­i­um is anoth­er self-sus­tain­ing envi­ron­ment. The bee­tle will push up its lit­tle ball of dung to the top of the dirt mound, where the ball will roll down to the ground. The dung bee­tle will then push the ball up again. It has been doing this for thou­sands of years and will con­tin­ue to do so for thou­sands of years.

The Giraffe

You’ll notice that the giraffe is always wear­ing a long scarf that cov­ers her entire neck. She is very self-con­scious about her neck. Feel free to com­pli­ment her scarf, but don’t men­tion her long neck. Say some­thing like “What a beau­ti­ful scarf! Most peo­ple with nor­mal length necks can’t pull off scarves, but you do it very well,” and she will be happy.

The Orb Weaver Spider

The orb weaver is the one that knits the giraffe’s scarves. It takes rough­ly a year for him to knit one scarf. He will ask you to deliv­er the scarf around Christmas time every year. He will ask you to send the giraffe his regards, but you will do no such thing. Instead, say the scarf is from an anony­mous admir­er. The orb weaver is in love with the giraffe, but the giraffe must nev­er know. It is a for­bid­den love. They can nev­er be together.

The Tortoise

The tor­toise has not moved out of her shell since 1932. Our vet­eri­nar­i­an says she is healthy and bound to live a hun­dred more years. We’re not sure though, the vet­eri­nar­i­an may just be say­ing that to keep our insur­ance pre­mi­ums low. If she is alive, the tor­toise has prob­a­bly reject­ed the out­side world and cre­at­ed anoth­er just for her­self. You are most like­ly not wel­come in her world, so don’t both­er check­ing inside the shell.

The Meerkats

The Meerkats used to be an active bunch, play­ing vol­ley­ball and touch foot­ball, but nowa­days they just play PlayStation all day. They are allowed one new game per month and will hold a coun­cil to decide. You must over­see this coun­cil and resolve any dis­putes that come up. Also, it may be tempt­ing to let the warthog into the Meerkat pen to recre­ate a Lion King Timon and Pumbaa dynam­ic, but this is a bad idea. The Warthog is old fash­ioned and hates video games. He will destroy the PlayStation with his tusks. We can­not afford to keep buy­ing new PlayStations.

The Kangaroo

Our kan­ga­roo is a res­cue. She came from Sydney’s under­ground box­ing clubs. When we found her, she was cov­ered in bruis­es and had four bro­ken ribs. Her man­ag­er was push­ing her to the lim­it, forc­ing her to fight two or even three fights a day. She’s all bet­ter now. We helped her quit steroids, but she still smokes two packs a day drinks like a fish. Drinking and smok­ing keeps her night­mares at bay. She prefers Camel Menthols and Heineken.

The Raccoons

In recent years, our zoo rac­coons have been inter­act­ing with the street rac­coons that sneak onto our facil­i­ty dump to scav­enge for food. It is fair­ly easy to dis­tin­guish them. Our rac­coons wear Gucci and Louis Vuitton while the street rac­coons wear H&M and Walmart shirts. We can­not have the rac­coons exchang­ing social and cul­tur­al notes. This will destroy the illu­sion of sep­a­ra­tion between them. If you see a street rac­coon, do not hes­i­tate to shoot it. You can throw the car­cass­es in the food processor.

The Penguins

Our pen­guins are the clos­est thing you’ll have to cowork­ers. They hold day jobs work­ing with our frozen goods and meats. They work in the walk-in kitchen freez­er, as well as the meat lock­er where we keep the frozen car­cass­es for our car­ni­vores. Keep a good eye on them. They’re good kids but slack off often. Keep their smoke breaks to five min­utes. No loud music at work. They’ll ask you to order things for the pen­guin enclo­sure with their earn­ings. I’ll leave this at your own dis­cre­tion. Obviously don’t buy them any­thing dan­ger­ous or any­thing that can be used to escape. Once, they asked for ham­mocks for their after­noon naps, but they tied the ends togeth­er to make a rope and attempt­ed an escape. Every few weeks, the pen­guins may attempt to del­e­gate their work to you, say­ing it was “an order from the CEO.” I am the CEO and I will nev­er ask you to work with our frozen goods. Your sole job is to tend to the health and well­be­ing of our zoo creatures.

The Bears

The bear enclo­sure is divid­ed into four quad­rants, each with a male and female bear. We have polar bears, pan­da bears, black bears, and brown bears. They most­ly get along, but there’s always some ten­sion between the ter­ri­to­ries. The polar bear quad­rant is much cold­er than the oth­er three, so the oth­er bears hate the polar bears unan­i­mous­ly. The brown and black bears hate each oth­er the most. No one knows why. The brown bears always leave their drop­ping at the edge of their enclo­sure and paw them over to the black bear area. The black bears often throw decay­ing foliage to the brown bear side. The pan­da bears most­ly keep to them­selves, but the oth­er bears don’t take them as seri­ous­ly. They’re seen as the com­ic relief and their seri­ous inquiries are shut down quick­ly. The oth­er bears always steal the bam­boo from the pan­da bear area, even though none of them eat it. Once a year the bears cel­e­brate new year’s, but these fall on dif­fer­ent dates depend­ing on their species. They will always be argu­ing about which new year’s is the real one.

The Vampire Bat

Our vam­pire bat is noc­tur­nal so you will see him most active at night. Sometimes, when the day of zookeep­ing was extra toil­ing, you will find your­self awake in the mid­dle of night and tak­ing walks. You will look up at the moon and stars and won­der if this is all worth it. You will think about your wife or hus­band or boyfriend or girl­friend back in Argentina or Thailand or wher­ev­er you’re from and miss them. You will stop by the bat cage and he’ll ask you “can’t sleep huh?” and you’ll say “yeah,” and this will be the start of a beau­ti­ful friend­ship. But no mat­ter how close you get to him, you must nev­er let the vam­pire bat out of his cage. He will fly away and you will lose a won­der­ful friend­ship. Or worse, he may attempt to drink your blood. The vam­pire bat eats one mouse a day, so make sure he gets that.

The Anaconda

The ana­con­da, queen of all ser­pents, has hat­ed human­i­ty ever since God con­demned her to crawl on her bel­ly and eat dust. She will threat­en your friends and fam­i­ly. She will demor­al­ize you by remind­ing you of your own mor­tal­i­ty and the mean­ing­less­ness of exis­tence. She will tempt you to release all the ani­mals of the zoo, leav­ing them in the hands of chaos. She will tempt you to open her cage by putting on jazz music and cook­ing lob­ster tails. She will tempt you with pornog­ra­phy and drugs. She will tempt you with an illu­sion of hap­pi­ness. It will take immense willpow­er to not suc­cumb to her rebukes, but it can be done. For all the serpent’s twist­ed words, you will know one truth. The ana­con­da is in cap­tiv­i­ty, and you are free to roam the world. Bask in your free­dom, rejoice!


Jihoon Park’s fic­tion is forth­com­ing or pub­lished in Spry Literary Journal, The Fiction Pool, MARY: A Journal of New Writing, and else­where. He is cur­rent­ly a MFA stu­dent at George Mason University. He is from San Jose, California.