It’s National Zoo Keeper Week and we’re sharing the love! To recognize the dedication and hard work of our amazing zookeepers, we are posting an interview of a keeper each day this week. We loved talking to Larry, who found zookeeping by chance and found his passion.
Meet the Zookeeper: Larry William Millar
Q: How did you become a zookeeper?
A: “I’ve always loved animals, and I’ve owned dogs and cats, but I started my career as a zookeeper in a totally different way than most. I worked as a van driver for the zoo in 1976, mainly supporting our commissary. I talked to the older keepers that I was working with while I drove them, and occasionally they had me help them out. Being surrounded by all of that was just so interesting! I realized that I wanted to do it myself.”
Q: When did you start working as a zookeeper for the Calgary Zoo?
A: “I officially joined the Animal Care department in 1980 as a Zookeeper Apprentice, and I took that program for the required four years. Afterwards I was placed as an ‘all zoo relief’ keeper, so I helped everywhere- I worked in all of the sections and learned how to do everything. That was my position for about 10 years, and then in 1991 I moved to the former cats and bears section, where a highlight was caring for the Amur tigers. A couple of years ago I moved to where I am now- hoofstock in Eurasia.”
Q: What’s your favourite animal to work with?
A: “I love the tigers and the snow leopard. I also really enjoy the Eurasian lynx. Because they’re cats! Cats are so great because they’re independent, they’re cute and fuzzy, and there are so many different varieties of cat. I like working with animals that really think, and cats have to think in order to be the predators that they are. I really loved our old male Amur tiger Khassam, because I worked with him when he first arrived at the zoo (at 2 years old) until his death many years later. I worked with him almost his entire life, and so I really got to know him.”
Q: What’s a great zookeeping story that you can share with us?
A: “I was working with our Bactrian camels, and another zoo staff member called me to let me know that a camel named Brendan had got his foot stuck between a feeder and a tree. I went in with a little bowl of food to calm him down, and I helped him get his foot free. I get a call the next day that the same camel is stuck again, so I grab some food to calm him down, and help him again. By the time I’m called on the third day, I know that something’s going on. Sure enough, I arrive, and the camel is just resting his foot on the spot where it had been stuck. He was training ME! I was bringing him food right at lunchtime. That’s why it’s so important to train the animals well- or they can run the place! This story took place about 30 years ago, so they can’t trick me anymore- I’ve caught on.
Another great story has to do with our old male Amur tiger Khassam. He had recived a little eye injury from another tiger, and so I would ask him ‘how’s the eye?’ He took to winking that eye at me whenever I asked. No one would believe me, so I would have to show them. I’d walk them up to Khassam and say ‘how’s the eye?’ and sure enough he would wink! He did that with me for almost two full years. Really great tiger.”