Friday, May 24, 2013

The Parable of the Zoo Keeper

Quint was a zoo keeper for the Capitol City Zoo. He was the master keeper of the big cats. He had worked his way up through the ranks, first cleaning out general areas in High School, then apprenticing under the baboon keeper before going to college. With his degree in Biology he had returned and gotten a post as the junior keeper for the Bobcats until the main keeper post for the Lions opened up. He was a natural and it wasn’t long before the director had promoted him over the whole building. It was one of the most popular in the Zoo, and Quint loved his job.

The problem was that, not long after assuming this important position, things began to unravel. Some of the cats began to get sick, and one of the Ocelots even died. Sure, it was the oldest cat in the collection, but it should have had several good years left. For the first time in his career, Quint couldn’t just rely on his instincts and natural talents. He needed to make more of an effort and expand his knowledge.

He began to read voraciously. He read every book on animal husbandry he could get his hands on. Of course, most concerned domesticated animals. However, he was able to discern many good principles and ideas that he might be able to apply to his current task. He also began to attend every single conference for zoo keepers offered. He got to know many respected and renowned keepers from around the world. He began to get offers to speak at some of the conferences even. Some of his theories adapting cattle management and deer population control to zoo environments began to create a buzz. He was becoming well known in his field. A real success.

Then one day as he was preparing to fly to San Diego to present a lecture, he got a call from his assistant keeper. Simba, the prize lion of the collection and pride of the zoo, was sick. The director wanted to see him. He would have to cancel his plans and inform the conference to fill his slot with some other speaker.

When Quint got to the director’s office, he asked him to have a seat.

“Quint, you’ve become quite an asset to this zoo. You are known and sought out in zoos all over the country. It has increased our reputation amongst zoo professionals immensely. But, we have a problem. The cats are suffering and the public is beginning to take note. Our popularity in the city—amongst the public—is going to suffer.”



“Sir, I am doing everything I know how to do. I am trying to improve the situation and my abilities.”

“Yes, Quint, I know. I have seen you become quite the expert in our field, but let me ask you a question. When was the last time you read this:”

He held up a little book, tattered and dog-eared, entitled “Basic Zoo Keeping.” Quint knew it was the director’s own work, a classic in the field, one he had read himself a lot when he was just getting started in zoo keeping.

“Well, it has been a while, sir, but I know it quite well. I have read it many times.”

“Yes, but everything you need to know, all the solutions to the problems in your building are in it. How about this, when was the last time you spent any time with the cats. Just sat there and watched them.”

“I have been so busy with administration and speaking, that I have to admit I can’t remember when.”

“Quint, you have always shown a lot of promise. I had expected you to be a strong contender for my position when I retire. However, I need you to be the right kind of expert for this zoo.”

“What do you mean?”

“What we need here is an expert keeper in practice, not theory. Forget the books and the conferences. Forget the popularity and the respect of your colleagues. Get back to the basics of the task at hand and reacquaint yourself with the animals in your care. Don’t over think the job, just do it.”

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