Children (and some adults) gave us some of their most pressing animal-related questions, so we went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and gave them to Megan Ross, the zoo’s executive vice president, and Dave Bernier, the zoo’s general curator of animal care. Here’s what we found.
How come boy lions have hair and girl lions don’t? -Tayvion
Megan Ross: Boy lions have to impress the ladies. That’s how it works in the lion world. So in the lion social world, there’s one male lion and he has lots of females that he is trying to get to create his own pride. So he really has to be strong and able to defend them and protect them, as well as be a lion that the females are attracted to. So a lot of his extra hair allows that to happen. It’s a lot about showing off.
Is it awkward to walk in on the zoo animals mating? -Naomi
Dave Bernier: No. It isn’t. It’s part of their natural behavior. So we’re comfortable with it because they’re comfortable with it.
How do they get the animals? -Angie
Ross: We utilize science and mathematical modeling to create plans for the future, and some of those plans are the lion that you have at Lincoln Park Zoo should go to another zoo, or another lion should come here and they should breed. So we get our animals from other accredited zoos and aquariums, primarily based on a lot of the recommendations that come from population biologists.
What is the difference from what the lions eat in the wild and what you all feed them in the zoo? -Mike
Bernier: They’ll get bone meat. Meat that’s on a bone. It’s beef. And it gives them the ability to use their normal eating behaviors where they have to pull meat off the bone, they have to use their teeth, they have to chew. The bones have tendons and cartilage and they get to chew on that stuff and it’s very good for them.
It’s only a part of their diet, because a lion would eat intestines and liver and all the other things, so we also provide them a commercial beef diet that has vitamins and minerals and other things added to it.
What is the process to become a zookeeper or animal trainer? -Latrice
Ross: We have job postings online all the time, so I will say there are opportunities for people to apply.
But usually if you want to become a zoo animal keeper or a trainer, you need to have some sort of degree — a bachelor’s degree in one of the sciences — or have a lot of experience, although you will have to have a college degree if you want to become an animal keeper or a trainer.
We’re really excited about people having some experience working with animals from veterinary clinics, from maybe other zoos and aquariums from across the country. We have internship opportunities available for teens and also some college students to come and work here in different capacities. And we have volunteer opportunities for lots of individuals to come and just get to better understand the zoo and maybe have some exposure so they can make themselves a little bit more of a competitive applicant.
Click ‘play’ above to listen to Dave Bernier on Morning Shift, which broadcast live from the Lincoln Park Zoo on Friday. You can listen to the whole hour-long zoo special by subscribing to the Morning Shift podcast.