Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guest Star Day: It's a zoo out there!

An excerpt from my column, originally published in 2005. While my sister no longer works for the zoo, I still enjoy this look into the world of "extreme gardening".

As promised, we have a special guest today. My sister, who works for the Sedgewick County Zoo, has agreed to be interviewed. She has also stated that if I make her sound goofy, she'll put a snake in my bed. Without further ado, I'd like you to meet my sister, Karen Sillett!

Q. So, what exactly is your job title?

A. It's not very exciting. If you want to get fancy, I'm the Turf Manager. If the business cards I ordered ever show up, they'll say "Groundskeeper".

Q. And you've been doing this for how long?

A. Four years as of last April. I was taking a year off from doing insulation work, and filled out an Internet application for the zoo. Part of the reason I got the job was because of my heavy-equipment experience.

Q. Was it pretty much what you were expecting?

A. I didn't know what to expect. How close would I be to the animals, would I be working with the public; I couldn't say I had any expectations one way or another.

Q. On that note, what does your boss expect of you?

A. I take care of anything turf-related, which includes fertilizing, aerating, overseeding or reseeding, and mowing. I also look after the flowerbeds for the Education and Administration buildings, the parking lot, and the entryways. Thanks to the storms we get, I'm part of the tree pruning crew, too.

Q. What's your biggest project to date?

A. The job itself! We have 67 exhibits on about 120 acres, and we're open every day of the year, excluding the Zoobilee fundraiser. A lot of my old responsibilities have been parceled out to others, because I have so many new things to do. Our department, which we call the Horticulture Department, created the flamingo exhibit just inside the front gate, and we've added on to the gorilla exhibit. We also make corrections to contractor's work, such as replacing or relocating plants, trees, or shrubs.

Q. What are some of your most interesting experiences there?

A. Feeding tree-eaters like Steph and Cinda, the elephants, and the giraffes and rhinos. And how many people get chased by wolves when they mow grass? When I mow the wolf enclosure, Nancy Smith walks alongside to clear brush and other obstacles. Any sudden moves or strange noises on our part brings the mother wolf and her cubs over to inspect!

Q. Have you got a worst thing/best thing?

A. Worst thing has to be the fact that the only time I've ever gotten stitches in my life, it was while working at the zoo. Three times, actually. Never trust a chainsaw, even when it's not running! The best thing is the people. Not just in my department, but throughout the whole zoo.

Q. Can you describe a typical day?

A. There's no such thing here! Every day brings something new. Any job that lets you see lion cubs or alligators on your break is far from typical.

Far from typical, indeed. Is your workplace a zoo? To which exhibit would you liken your cubicle?


  1. I actually laughed out loud when you mentioned that she said she'd put a snake in your bed if you made her sound goofy! :)

    I've never cosidered the zoo employees before. I mean, obviously I've seen them, but your interview certainly has me intrigued. I love the thought of a mother wolf and cubs checking out what those crazy humans are up to!

    My cube looks like a zoo exhibit. (I'm not terribly organized.) My cube neighbor eats like an animal. (I always have to listen to the chomping, slurping and lip-smacking when he eats his lunch. *cringe*)

  2. I work in my office with two black cats strolling in and out - must be the panther exhibit.
    Your sister's job is one people never think about, but a zoo has more plants than animals!

  3. Thanks for sharing this interview. Sounds like a great job!


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