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Zookeepers Are Revealing The Darkest Secrets Behind Their Zoos, And Some Of Them Are Pretty Messed Up

The dolphin one...I need to lie down.

Zookeepers and other zoo employees are revealing their darkest behind-the-scenes secrets — and you'll probably never look at a zoo the same way again.

Picture By Tambako The Jaguar / Getty Images

It all started when Reddit user u/gomi-panda posted a viral thread asking zookeepers of the internet: "What's the low-down, dirty, inside scoop on zoos?"

Photographs By Anita Anand / Getty Images

Here are some of the top-voted responses:

1. "Those free-roaming peacocks are really stupid and sometimes go in the lions exhibit and get torn up."

Michael Eatwell / Getty Images

2. "The most dangerous and feared animal in case of an escape is not, as you may think, lions, tigers, or other large carnivores. It's the chimps. Those things will rip your arm off and beat you to death with the bloody end as soon as they look at you."


3. "I worked with large tortoises. We had these five-gallon buckets for cleaning the poop out of enclosures, and other buckets for feeding them fresh grass we cut. The first day on the job, I took both buckets into the pen. ... I heard this awful, loud grunting and something breaking. One of the 300-pound males tried to bang the bucket in front of visitors and flattened it. He would even follow me around just in case I might leave more innocent buckets unattended."


4. "When you're cleaning underneath the perches, parrots will wait for you to look up before taking a shit. They have good aim. That's how you get shit in the mouth. Don't look up."


5. "If any animal escapes before the zoo opens to the public, the zoo is supposed to shut down completely for the day. Often, though, smaller zoos can’t afford to lose a day open to the public, so if some specific types of animals escape (such as reptiles or small animals), they will just stay open while having keepers look for the animal. ... I remember hearing from coworkers that they listened to our boss and opened even though a small but somewhat venomous snake was on the loose."

Marina Gundske / Getty Images

6. "Next time you go to the zoo, ask someone which animals are 'kill on sight' in an escape. The answers will surprise you. Lions and tigers are typically on the 'tranq and capture' list, but a jaguar the size of a golden retriever is 'KoS.' The zoo I was with, the two jags were the only animals on site that were on the shoot-to-kill list. Even the silverback was on the tranq-first list."


7. "The zebras are ruthless and will tear apart any unfortunate kangaroo that dares break into an enclosure. They love the thrill of the chase...and the subsequent kill when they get bored."


8. "Our lions will urinate on guests if they get too close, which is always funny to see. Not so funny to smell."


9. "Aquariums have captive breeding programs for some of the dolphins and whales, but they are too difficult to transport for mating. So they have to use artificial insemination. Which requires semen samples from whales. Which means that it's someone's job to give handjobs to dolphins and whales in order to collect the sperm. It's part of the animal's training, and the whales will roll over and present their genitals on command."

Ja'crispy / Getty Images

10. "The dolphin trainers are stuck up. They are like the jocks in high school. They usually try to stay in shape because wetsuits aren’t flattering. They perform daily and people love them, so they have an ego."


11. "I worked in the zoo's restaurant. The one thing that even low-level cashiers learned was the 'Mr. Wallaby' code. The manager on duty in each department carried a walkie-talkie, and if an animal ever escaped, the code to announce its location was 'Mr. Wallaby, please meet Mr. [Escaped Animal] at [animal's location].' I kinda hoped we'd have one with a small, harmless animal that would be easy to catch again, just to see the excitement. Making chicken salad sandwiches all day got a little monotonous."


12. "There was one particularly traumatic event with the lions on a very warm and very packed spring day. The zoo was inside a large park, so various wild animals wandered through the zoo all day. One unfortunate day, a large deer fell into the lion enclosure. The adolescent male stalked it and ran it down within about 30 seconds and tore the deer to shreds. In front of dozens of horrified adults and screaming kids. I felt kind of bad that so many people saw, but like, circle of life."


13. "One of our most popular exhibits was this incubator with baby chicks. We were told to tell visitors that the older baby chicks would be sent to schools as classroom pets or to the petting zoo. In reality, we did send the chicks to the live animal feed for the snakes and other carnivores."

Burak Karademir / Getty Images

14. "Dead zoo animals are sometimes fed to carnivores."


15. "The amount of injuries you can just casually pick up from animals is crazy. I've been kicked in the chest by a kangaroo, almost sexually assaulted by an emu, attacked by a wombat and a bat, bitten by a monitor lizard and a carpet python, had a rhino charge at me, and been scratched by a macaque. My old boss has this badass scar from a snow leopard attack, and this guy I work with now has his entire left forearm mangled from an orangutan attack."


16. "Because their external genitalia look similar, many spotted hyena populations in captivity are facing extinction due to groups being made of the same sex."


17. "Monkeys will, in fact, try to have sex with a female human if there is an opportunity to. The more you know."

Peopleimages / Getty Images

18. "If you work with the animals, there's a good chance you'll not be able to have any kind of social life, between the long hours/weekends and the stench. I've been kicked out of stores after work because I apparently stunk way worse than I thought I did — even after scrubbing off!"


19. "The poor penguin keepers can never quite get rid of the miasma of dead fish that envelopes them. As for me, the stinkiest job I ever had to do was cleaning out the duck ponds. Managed to empty a whole train carriage that evening, even though I had changed and my work clothes were double-bagged."


20. "Our camels will spit if you piss them off, and it's not saliva like most people think. You really, really, really, really don't want to upset our camels if you have any plans the rest of the week, please and thank you!" [Editor's note: Camel "spit" is actually vomit.]


21. "When I worked on the grounds crew at a zoo, there was a camel who thought it was hysterical to nudge people into the electric fence. When we would trim the moat around his enclosure, he liked to reach his neck out and hook you just hard enough to stumble and get yourself shocked."

Mohamad Ridzuan Abdul Rashid / Getty Images

22. "Lions know fully well that they can't get through the glass. They do that just to get attention."


23. "The amount of dumbasses who complain to management about paying to go to the zoo then not seeing any animals is unreal! Like, what do you want us to do? Go in there with sticks and chase them out of their hidey-holes?! Sorry buddy, not going to happen."


24. "Be careful walking by the open-air monkey enclosures, because poop isn't the only thing they'll fling at you. It's like that scene from Silence of the Lambs, when Clarice is going to see Hannibal know the scene I mean. Only much, much worse." [Editor's note: It's semen.]


And finally, there was this sage wisdom for anyone who visits a zoo...

25. "I used to volunteer weekly at a large zoo, and at one point, management started doing monthly dangerous animal escape drills. Someone would run around in a lion onesie and we’d have to react as if one of the large animals had escaped. It was hilarious, but one of the funniest things I was taught was that if an incident did occur, you have to tell the nearby guests to get inside only once. If, after that, they refuse to follow you indoors (the protocol was to hole up in the large activity center buildings), you’re to leave them there, go inside yourself, and lock the doors. It makes sense because people can be very stupid and you don’t want to risk everyone’s lives because of one Karen, but it amused me to no end that the protocol was to just let them get mauled."

Balaji Shanmugam / Getty Images

You can read the full thread of responses on Reddit.

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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