1,600 animals weighing from 150g (pigmy marmoset) to more than 4 tonnes (Asian elephant), 55 year-round employees and around 110 in summer, 18 hectares and 4.2km of shady walkways: La Palmyre is a little town in itself, with various trades busy ensuring the best quality of care for the animals and strict maintenance of the site. Almost €20,000 is needed every day of the year to keep the zoo running.
Thierry Petit, the zoo vet since 1989, is responsible for the animals’ health but also for the zoo’s ‘stock’, meaning that he manages transfers of animals to or from other zoos necessitated by births, deaths, genetics and conflicts that occur within groups.
Thierry’s mornings are spent on ‘on-the-ground’ care – administering medical treatments, overseeing the healing of a wound or recovery from an injury, and carrying out anaesthetics (either planned or, when an incident is reported by a keeper, emergency).
Afternoons tend to be taken up with administrative work: upkeeping registers, responding to emails, updating individual treatment files…
The zoo has a surgery building, digital radiography equipment, an autopsy room and a quarantine centre.
Keepers clean their animals’ enclosures and buildings and feed them. Each morning they make sure the animals have had a good night and are well. If they spot the slightest anomaly (for instance, if an animal hasn’t eaten, if it has an injury or if its behaviour has changed), they call the vet at once. This is a tiring job involving some physically demanding tasks (raking, carrying heavy things...) and also weekend/public holiday work. Keepers are not allowed direct contact with dangerous animals such as big cats, bears, hippopotamuses and elephants. What qualities do they need? Energy, good observation skills, conscientiousness and, of course, a love of nature and animals!
A lot of zookeepers learn ‘on the job’, being recruited without any specific qualifications. However, there are specialist training centres in Gramat, Carquefou and Vendôme.
Two buildings serve as the zoo’s ‘nursery’: one, next to the bison enclosure, is generally used for breeding birds, whereas the one behind the parrot show area is normally for mammals.
Each building is fitted with couveuses, incubators and terrariums with heat lamps.
Baby animals with a disease or who are not being raised by their mother (because of a lack of milk or maternal instinct) are taken in by the nursery carers at the vet’s request. Nursery carers act as substitute mothers yet must at the same time restrict their contact with animals they take care of to minimise the phenomenon of imprinting and ease the future reintroduction of the individual to its original group or to others of its kind.
The technical manager maintains the pumps, filters, heating materials and other equipment essential for ensuring the quality of the animals’ environment. He is also responsible for the security of the zoo compound. Other parts of the zoo call upon him to repair defective machinery, tighten bolts on apparatus and change bulbs in buildings. Two technicians specialising in locks and soldering are also involved during the construction of new buildings and the laying out of enclosures both inside and out (attaching apparatus, welding screens, maintenance of hatches and locks…)