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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.