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​It may be hard work, with more than a hint of real danger, but Richard Shirinda is devoted to his charges at the Johannesburg Zoo.
ON a sizzling hot morning, zoo keeper Richard Shirinda makes his way hurriedly to the zoo to begin his shift.

Zoo keeper Richard ShirindaZoo keeper Richard ShirindaThe day ahead of him is hectic and includes preparing animal diets, cleaning, maintaining and repairing enclosures. But each step of the way he has help.

“I love being a zoo keeper,” he says simply. “It offers me an opportunity to work with wild animals directly and at the same time interact with the general public. I would not change for anything in the world.”

Shirinda, who has a degree in nature conservation from the University of South Africa, has been at the zoo for a decade, caring for all sorts of animals. He speaks briefly about his passion for wildlife, and admits that he has a soft spot for the African hippo.

“I know is a destructive animal and feared by many people. But I am fascinated by how fast it moves despite its heavy weight.”

Much of the cleaning and feeding is done before 9am, when the zoo opens for visitors. “There is a lot of work to be done in the zoo before visitors come in. The foods that have been prepared from the kitchen to feed the animals are collected.”

After slipping into his khaki uniform and thick shoes, the day begins with a meeting.

Here, the zookeepers skim through the daily reports from the previous day to see if there are any issues with the animals which have to be taken into account.

The meeting breaks up, and Shirinda rushes off to make sure that the animals he is responsible for that day are all in their appropriate places and feeding well.

Part of a zoo keeper's job is to ensure enclosures are kept cleanPart of a zoo keeper's job is to ensure enclosures are kept cleanHe is responsible for the zoo’s plant-eating animals. These include the giraffe, camels, eland and elephants.

After a long walk past a plethora of enclosures, Shirinda stops at the eland to check if there is enough food and water. “People need to love animals with a passion to be able to work in a zoo,” he says. “You will not last in the profession if you are not a devoted animal lover.”

He gets inside the enclosure through a fence to inspect the elands hidden in the night room. Satisfied that they are in good health, he proceeds to checks on the camels and the bushbuck.

This involves taking notes on any irregularities he notices when making his rounds.

His inspection is interrupted by a call from the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr Brett Gardner, asking for assistance with the vaccination of the newly born oryx and the bushbuck babies at the other side of zoo.

The vaccination is meant to protect the calves from lung infections. For the next hour, Shirinda works with Gardner and two students on the vaccinations. They start with the oryx.

Armed with long, spear-like horns, Shirinda describes oryxes as one of the most dangerous creatures in the zoo. He recounts a tale of one of the workers, who was stabbed by an oryx in the chest. The horn missed his heart by a couple of centimetres.

Logging in the day's activitiesLogging in the day's activities“Your mind should be focused on everything you do. If you don’t conform to the safety protocols, they will be casualities,” he adds.

Shirinda and Gardner enter the enclosure in a bakkie for safety reasons. Once inside the enclosure, they distract the herd of oryx with the bakkie and quickly grab the two calves, which are vaccinated behind the bakkie.

A close eye is kept on the annoyed mothers, who hover in agitation around the vehicle, looking for their babies.

After the vaccinations, it is time for Shirinda to feed the giraffe and elephants. He takes until lunchtime to deliver a bakkie-load of branches and leaves to the animals.

Throughout the afternoon, Shirinda does whatever work need to be done – this includes repairs to enclosures and paperwork, until the end of his day at 4pm. Paperwork includes animal reports that must be completed at the end of each day, and attending to enquiries from the public.

It is a busy day, but one he wouldn’t trade for any other job.

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