CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Visitors to the Cape May County Park & Zoo may catch a glimpse of Amy King walking around during afternoons on the grounds of the zoo, but every animal sees King five mornings a week.
King, of Middle Township, is the sole dietitian for the zoo’s 500 animals and an animal keeper.
“I check on every single animal and feed each animal,” said King, 43.
She is one of at least 18 animal keepers at the zoo and is also the backup cat and primate keeper.
As an animal keeper, King has specific responsibilities for the zoo’s eagle, a barred owl and a great horned owl and two red pandas — a 9-year-old male named Biru and an 18-year-old female named Luna.
Luna is the oldest in the nation, King said.
On a recent Thursday, neither Biru nor Luna left their beds to eat breakfast. King returned to feed them a lunch snack of grapes, banana and apple slices.
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Neither of them would eat while King was paying attention to them. She knows them well enough to figure out that if she walked away and did something else, they would start to eat in her absence, which they did. Later, once they started eating, they let her feed them out of her hand.
King spent 6½ years working at a bank before she enrolled at Stockton University to earn a bachelor’s degree with concentrations in forestry and wildlife to ease her transition toward working with animals. She started working at the zoo in December 2012 as a six-month seasonal worker and has now worked her way to being a year-round employee.
King spends the first three hours of her workday riding a John Deere tractor, delivering bowls and buckets of food to the animals.
“When I start at 7 a.m. and I am feeding and checking on the animals, I am making sure they have no health issues and that they are where they are supposed to be,” King said.
The animal keeper’s responsibilities include keeping the animals safe, securing their enclosures, providing food and water, cleaning up after and training them, she said.
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“Routines are really, really important,” said King, who added the animal keepers have to build relationships with those in captivity. “They know their routines. They know their keepers. They recognize their keepers by the sound of their voice and by sight.”
Once King finishes feeding and checking on all the animals, she spends a couple of hours indoors preparing their food for the next day. She also has to make sure there are enough bags of grain in stock and ordered for the zoo.
The dietitian part of King’s job is always changing as diets improve. She has to keep up with the research.
As the seasons change, the amount of food the animals eat changes.
The shifts in seasons also impact King and her job. During the offseason, an animal keeper can spend a couple of days without seeing a visitor at the zoo, but there is a great deal more interaction with the public once Memorial Day weekend rolls around.
“We talk to people all the time. They ask good questions. There are good interactions,” King said.
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She will be saying “Excuse me” a great deal more as she navigates through the crowds pushing a wheelbarrow. She also will spend more time answering visitors’ questions when she is out in public tending to her animals during the afternoons.
“It’s an adjustment for the animals,” said King about dealing with the increased crowds of the vacation season. “It’s a lot of additional stimulation.”
During the summer, working at a zoo can be fun, but the fun can also be exhausting because the animal keepers are on the go all day. King calls it the “summer groove,” when time management becomes especially important.
“It’s fun for us. We love our animals here,” said King, who added people always think her job is cool when they find out she works at a zoo. “We are proud of the relationships (with the animals), and we are proud to share it with people.”