Last week Braeden was invited to participate in Sydney Zoo’s Accessible Zookeeper for a Day program. Even if I’m unsure of what Braeden will think of an experience, I’m always keen to give him the chance to give things a go. He absolutely loved the day and it was so special to see him listening, participating and on occasion, going outside his comfort zone. I think it’s terrific that Sydney Zoo offers an accessible zookeeper program for ages eight and up to enjoy. Sydney Zoo is located in the Western Sydney suburb of Eastern Creek and offers excellent accessibility throughout the zoo.
Sydney Zoo Accessible Zookeeper for a Day review
The Sydney Zoo Accessible Zookeeper for a Day program is led by Steve, a wheelchair user with a passion for animals of all shapes and sizes. We’ve known Steve for several years as he is a member of our Have Wheelchair Will Travel community and kindly brought his bug collection to a fundraiser we held for Bear Cottage many years ago (catch up on that event in this blog). Steve and Jess from Sydney Zoo were our guides and educators for the program and what a dynamic duo they make. We gained so much knowledge during the program’s three hour duration that I’m definitely now your go-to gal for zoo trivia.
Our first official activity on the program’s schedule was a visit with the camels to assist with training through a feeding exercise but on our way we stopped at the various primate enclosures where Jess or Steve shared interesting pieces of information about the zoo’s residents. I found it fascinating to hear of the strength of the chimpanzees and that the enrichment we could see strewn around the grass in their area was fire hose. The hose is donated by the fire department for the purposes of enrichment and because it is so strong the chimps can’t destroy it.
My favourite animal is Orangutans so I was enthralled to hear that they have a television for rainy day indoor entertainment. Apparently, there have been cases where zoos have used nature documentaries to model how a mother cares for a baby Orangutan when there hasn’t been any other way. They are apparently super smart, curious and always checking on the lock on the enclosure. Let’s hope they don’t ever get a hold of the series Prison Break or there might be a whole lot of new shenanigans at Sydney Zoo.
It’s extra cool walking around the zoo with the official keepers because the animals are on alert spotting the keeper’s uniforms and no doubt hopeful for food.
When we made it to the camel enclosure we were given a keeper talk about the camels, learning that they are considered a pest in outback Australia where there is a considerable wild population. We also learnt about their feet and how nature’s design ensures they don’t sink into the sand in the desert. Camels don’t like to be touched so we simply offered food to Opal, Jade, Pearl and Ruby. The feeding is part of training the animals. Keepers need to have the trust of the camels so they are able to tend to their various needs without it causing them stress.
After feeding the camels we sat in the outdoor area of the café where we had a short break. The resident porcupines were doing a few victory laps in front of the windows which was exciting as I’ve never seen porcupines in an Australian zoo. Barb and Shirley were thoroughly showing off even though they are nocturnal and should have been sleeping.
We then took part in a tactile activity. Steve produced various items collected from the animal enclosures and encouraged us to guess which animal they came from. I won’t provide any spoilers but I was terrible at guessing.
Braeden was a very willing participant giving everything a go. There was some irony to his strength crushing a small piece of turtle shell which had been shed from a turtle named Crush.
It was then time to take part in an enrichment exercise. We were asked to tie grass in various ways to make it more interesting for the animals when it was placed in the animal enclosure. In doing so we were adding our own scents to the grass which would again make it more interesting for the animals.
Once we’d tied the grass we made our way to the nocturnal house where Jess went back of house to place the grass in two enclosures. We were able to watch to gauge the level of interest from the animals in those enclosures.
Sydney Zoo boasts the world’s largest reptile and nocturnal house so there’s a great game of hide and seek to be had with some of the reptile and nocturnal residents putting our seeking skills to the test. It’s always super rewarding to be the one that finds the camouflaged snake hiding under a log. Not that I am the least bit competitive.
The next part of the program was an Aboriginal cultural talk by Cindy. We were shown how one timber tool would be used for multiple purposes and learnt about various aspects of Indigenous culture. Sydney Zoo is committed to ensuring that our First Nations People and their culture is represented in an integral way throughout the zoo.
A large part of being a zookeeper is dealing with poo. Whether that’s shovelling it out of enclosures or checking it to see what the health and well-being is of the animals. We didn’t do any shovelling or dissecting during our visit but it is interesting to hear how much the zookeepers can learn just from the many deposits found around the zoo. Some of the poo is also used for enrichment. There really is no accounting for taste! Taking a bit of kangaroo poo to the lions sounds like it provides great stimulation.
Our last activity was meeting some of Sydney Zoo’s resident reptiles. It’s a challenge for Braeden to control his grip, it tends to be either tight or weak. So lots of concentration goes into gently stroking the reptiles but he did really well. We met Jabba the Water Dragon, Cookie the Blue Tongue Lizard (the blue tongue stops it getting sun burnt as it darts in and out) and Chandler the Children’s Python.
We had a great time doing the Sydney Zoo Accessible Zookeeper for the Day program. It’s important to remember that this is a program to give you an insight into what a keeper does at the zoo rather than simply being an animal encounter. In saying that, we had several awesome animal encounters.
The program is for ages 8 and up. As Steve said, there was nothing like this program around when he was a kid so it was important to him that any age could participate. So any adults who have been busting to give one of these programs a go and assumed it was just for kids, this one is not. Amelia and I were both engaged throughout and learnt plenty.
The program runs for three hours with Steve and another keeper leading the day. If you’ve been following our adventures for a while you’ll know that Braeden is an on-the-go guy so I wasn’t sure how he’d take to three hours but he was engaged for most of the program. He was a bit restless in the nocturnal house but I think that’s because he visits Sydney Zoo often. The tactile portion of the program was a real hit.
Activities may vary according to the time of day the tour runs and other considerations. As an example, it was kangaroo mating season when we visited so the male kangaroos would not have liked us visiting their female mates when they were setting about courting them.
Custom groups can be catered to with a minimum of four participants. The impression I get from Jess is that the zoo is keen to work with individuals and groups to cater to their needs where possible.
Companion card is accepted and Sydney Zoo members receive a reduced rate on the accessible zookeeper program.
On conclusion of the Accessible Zookeeper for the Day program you are free to stay on for the rest of the day to enjoy the zoo.
This would make an awesome birthday or Christmas present or just a lovely special day out.
You can read more about the program on Sydney Zoo’s accessible zookeeper for a day page.
Accessibility at Sydney Zoo
Braeden is an annual pass holder at Sydney Zoo and it’s always a great day out for him and his support workers. The ease of getting around the zoo is one of the elements of a visit that makes it so attractive. There’s only one small incline in the whole zoo which is bliss when pushing Braeden in his wheelchair.
Accessible parking spaces are located close the the entrance of the zoo and stand-alone unisex accessible bathrooms are available.
Wide pathways ensure there’s plenty of space to move around even during busy school holidays.
You can read more general information about access at Sydney Zoo in this blog review.
Braeden paid for his annual pass but we were hosted for Sydney Zoo’s accessible zookeeper for a day program. As always, our opinions are based on our experience.
For more information on accessible activities, make sure you join our Accessible Sydney Facebook group.