Zookeepers Share The Cutest Things They've Ever Seen Animals Do At The Zoo

Zookeepers Share The Cutest Things They've Ever Seen Animals Do At The Zoo

Zookeepers and other members of zoo staff spend a lot of their time around animals. Now, regular wild animals are already unpredictable enough and sometimes engage in extremely strange behaviors. The animals at the zoo, however, have been spending a lot of time with little to do besides observe human beings. It should come as no surprise then that these animals have learned even more odd behaviors from watching us, or that zookeepers have often been there to witness these things when they happen.

This list is full of stories told by zookeepers who went online to share the times they saw animals doing something that was inexplicable. Let us never forget that humans are not the only strange creatures on this world of ours!

22139-1551738119798.jpgDanny Nicholson/Flickr

45. Haze The New Guy

I worked at a private zoo for a while and the weirdest was probably the female baboon rescue we had. She was very good-tempered but she would beckon new workers over to her cage with a gesture and if you had anything in your hand, she'd reach out and rip it from you then throw it off the steep hill behind her enclosure.


44. Slow Motion Charger

I was once charged by a very large male Sulcata Tortoise who apparently thought I got a little too close to his female. Fortunately, I was able to step over the foot-high fence in time so that I wasn't viciously mauled. Our tortoises are characters. I've also had to flip the male over by myself who, mind you, is getting toward the end of his lifespan and is about as big as they get. The reason he was on his back? Because he got a little too frisky with the female and fell off.


43. Ruining The Parrot

I used to work at a zoo that kept a parrot cage near the guest bathroom. My co-worker with IBS would run by the parrot en route to the bathroom every morning, screaming, “I gotta poop!” Guess what phrase the parrot learned? He’s now no longer a featured animal at children’s birthday parties.


42. Buddy, I Got Out Again

Our sloth would apparently escape his exhibit every night and lay on the floor (it was an indoor exhibit) until morning. When he'd see a worker first thing in the morning, he'd reach out his arms like, "Heeeeeey, I know I'm not supposed to be here, buuuuut, can you get me something to eat?" Turns out there was a flaw in his enclosure and once it was fixed, he didn't escape anymore. Apparently he was bored, so they figured out some new enrichment and now he's a happy sloth.



41. Fruitful Experiences

I would bring the chimps treats each week. One day, I brought a dozen kiwis and it was clear they had never seen them before. Watching them peel the kiwi so delicately with their lips was amazing. I also gave them watermelon; they will eat it all the way through to the skin. I'm talking all of the rind down to one millimeter of tough green skin.

22144-1551738701199.jpgEric Kilby/Flickr

40. Synchronized Showoffs

I work at the San Diego Zoo and the peacocks LOVE attention. They fan out their feathers at routine times every single day in the same exact spots just for the crowds of people to come and give them attention. They do this with no peahens in sight. It's kinda funny.

22145-1551738795795.jpgSadie Hart/Flickr

39. Don't Look At Me, I'm Hideous!

We kept a wood duck in our butterfly house exhibit at my previous workplace. When he was in his full glory, with his beautiful colors and feathers, he would be all up in everybody's face and would want attention, attention, attention. But as soon as he molted into his drab colors for the summer, he would sulk and be cranky and hide in his pond. Shows off when he's pretty, hides out when he's not at his best. Seems pretty human to me.

22146-1551738963093.jpgAndrew Arch/Flickr

38. What Is This Flavor?

I’m a zookeeper! I work in a small department with lots of random animals that we take on programs to show guests. In our department, the cages are made of mesh, so the animals can sometimes be housed next to each other where they can reach each other and interact. One time, the beaver was housed next to the tamanduas (lesser ant eaters), and we went over and saw the tamanduas licking the beaver ALL OVER! By the time the beaver went back to his own enclosure, he was soaking wet with tamandua spit.

22147-1551739272422.jpgAnthony Brewer/Flickr

37. Sick Sickener

One of our ocelots will eat anything and everything, even though he has a sensitive stomach and knows he'll puke. His specialty is catching opossums or squirrels and eating everything but the head, which he carefully positions in full view of the public the next morning.

22148-1551739424905.jpgFrank Camp/Flickr

36. I'm Not Getting You Cookies

A chimpanzee saved a piece of newspaper she'd been given for enrichment until keepers showed up the next day. She climbed up to my eye level, held out an ad for Chips Ahoy cookies, then pointed at me.

22149-1551739467439.jpgTim Ellis/Flickr


35. Hide And Swat

The mountain lions were an absolute trip because, get this, they played HIDE AND SEEK, not even 100% predatory behavior. They would run behind trees until you "found" them (they are still cats, with the impression that hiding their heads makes them invisible), come out, swat you on the butt and go hide behind something else.

22150-1551739567365.jpgNathan Rupert/Flickr

34. No Rude Gestures

I was at the San Diego Zoo where they have a lot of female bonobos (no males for obvious reasons). One of the young ones had a leafy branch it was carrying around like a teddy bear, or maybe a snack for later? One of the bonobos got mad at another and did this hand gesture, sort of holding your hand up but limp-wristed and shaking it.

A little kid in the audience saw that and a bit later made that gesture at one of the bonobos who was close to the plexiglass. The bonobo immediately slapped the plexiglass to discipline the human kid that it's not nice to do what's the equivalent of flipping the bird to an adult.

22184-1551743736182.jpgJeroen Kransen/Flickr

33. Dangerous Learning

I remember once there was a period of a few days where one of the chimps had this stick and was spending hours at a time just rubbing it on the ground. Some of the keepers tried to give it other toys to play with, but it wasn't interested. Anyway, long story short, it was sharpening the stick and then tried to stab a keeper through the bars of their indoor part of their enclosure.

22152-1551740211634.jpgSteve Harris/Flickr

32. It Takes A Village To Raise A Chick

I did see something happen that was pretty magical. When penguin chicks hatch, they have fluffy down feathers that require them to stay out of the water. Sometimes when these feathers start being replaced with new feathers, they get a bit excited to go check out the cold, liquidy stuff.

This chick was beelining it to the water much too soon. As he ran, six adult king penguins rushed over to the water, surrounded this chick and started bumping the chick with their bellies back towards the land. Penguins don't have the greatest parental bonds after they stop feeding them, but let's pretend they're long-term devoted parents... That still means that four other penguins who had nothing to do with this chick ran to help. While whole families aren't well-bonded, the colony as a whole is very dependent on and caring towards others.

22153-1551740289914.jpgLiam Quinn/Flickr

31. Adorable Bribery

I work with exotic animals. We have a marmoset (little monkey) that does lots of little, oddly human things. But her most recently thing is her new method of "asking" for food. If you've got something and you aren't sharing, she'll sit in the corner of her enclosure then turn, look over her shoulder, and look up at you with big round eyes until you give in or she gets mad. She looks just like a little girl with sad eyes. We aren't really sure where she got it from.

22154-1551740377110.jpgHamish Irvine/Flickr

30. Mimi The Magnani-Mouse

We had a small mammal enclosure and one of the striped grass mice was fond of sharing. She wasn't afraid and would run up all excited when you opened the enclosure to do the check-ups. After she and everyone was checked, they got a seed treat. We used to just spread them around but she loved taking it from your fingers and running up to each and every one of her fellows to make sure everyone got one. She would then check everyone got one before getting her own. She took longer than any of them to eat the dang thing, holding it in her mouth half way and lick it.

I guess if everyone got one they wouldn't rush her. She was also the only one that never tried to bite the gloves. Her name was Mimi.



29. The Wrong Key

I was working with wild monkeys in Thailand that had been taken in for rehab. We had this one little sneaky one who used to wait until after you'd fed him (throwing food over the fence) then run to the gate, put his hand through the gap, and try and use his finger as a key to open the lock. He had obviously seen us on occasion open the lock to get in and out, and worked out that it was something about our hands and that hole that was linked to his freedom.

22156-1551740633314.jpgSteven Worster/Flickr

28. Aural Taster

I worked in a lorikeet exhibit for four years. We had a red back chattering lory that really liked hanging out on my shoulder for most of my shift. The weird part is she liked to lick my ears. Not really sure why. She wasn't looking for ear wax or anything, I think she just liked the texture.

22157-1551740704361.jpgJulie ann Johnson/Flickr

27. Training The Keeper

Macaws are kind of jerks. When I first started working with scarlets, one butthead decided that if I didn't give him a peanut every time I dared enter his cage, he would attempt to peck the top of my head. It worked for a while. That stupid bird trained ME.

22158-1551740801444.jpgeric lynch/Flickr

26. Must Have Been Mother's Day

My favorite story is of a golden lion tamarin family. They are small orange monkeys that live in family groups of parents and multiple offspring who help raise the new babies. The dame wasn't a great mother, and turned over the babies to dad and the siblings as soon as possible, only really taking them to nurse. One time I watched her nurse both babies, and when she was done, she gave out this high-pitched vocalization and everyone came running to her. Dad took one baby, big sister took another, and two of the other kids started grooming mom while she laid on her back in the sun. It cracked me up.

22185-1551743819522.jpgJosh More/Flickr

25. A Zoo Love Story

We have four giraffes on the property, one of which was a lovely lady named Camille. One day, they were roaming at the fence neighboring the farm next door, where a kudu antelope named Charles lived. Camille and Charles absolutely fell in love. For days they stayed at the fence and wouldn't leave. Finally, Charles decided he'd had enough. He jumped the big fence (a fence large enough for a giraffe) and now spends his days roaming our property with Camille. The people next door were really awesome and let him stay with us.


24. Hey Dad, Hey Dad, Hey Dad...

I think the most human-like thing I've seen a zoo animal do was a baby gorilla teasing its dad. Just swinging around on a vine and stealing little bits of food from in front of its dad. And the dad ended up jerking the vine as his way of saying, "Stop it, you dumb kid!"

22161-1551741126824.jpgMichelle Bender/Flickr


23. Snort Escort

My favorite animal to work with was the babirusa (sometimes called deer-pigs); we only had one, and he used to 'escort' me around the perimeter of his enclosure whenever I was in the area. If I stopped, he'd stop, if I walked backward he would turn around and follow. He would crazily wag his tail and make what I assumed to be 'happy' snorts. He seemed to genuinely enjoy seeing me, and when I didn't have much of anything to do I'd make my way over to his pen, just to rub his back. I came to see him like an old, happy, dog.

22162-1551741227263.jpgMichael Shehan Obeysekera/Flickr

22. Scratching The Grunts

I used to work as a staff scuba diver at a really nice aquarium. After we did maintenance on the exhibits and checked all of our tasks off the list, it was play time -- my favorite part!

There are these little fish called grunts. On the floor of the aquarium are small pebbles, like you would see in a smaller home aquarium. I liked to position myself over by the glass so the patrons could watch this really cool behavior. They loved it, as did I! I could take a handful of pebbles and hold it up in my fist and as soon as the grunts would see me doing this, they would literally line up to get their "scratches"!

I would hold my hand out, said fish would position themselves under my hand, and I would pour a handful of pebbles over their backs and let it run down both sides, "scratching" their backs and sides as they just hovered there. They'd swim away a little bit, then the next one would come over for "scratches". They didn't want you to necessarily "pet" them, but pouring those pebbles over them, oh yes! It was actually very cute.

22163-1551741368578.jpgRalph Daily/Flickr

21. Shift The Girls

I used to work with primates. Orangutans are scary smart. They for sure understand language on some rudimentary level.

We had a male and two females, and the one female was notorious for not shifting when we needed her too. I'm not even sure how it started, but we, the keepers, would tell the male "go get the girls". He would disappear, and sure enough, the two females would shift, and he would amble after them. It was not a trained behavior in that we did not specifically reward him for doing what he did when we said that phrase. It was more just him understanding the routine, knowing what we needed, and getting the fact that nobody got breakfast if the whole group didn't shift. He was not going to miss breakfast just because the girls didn't want to shift.

22164-1551741441125.jpgMichael Gwyther-Jones/Flickr

20. Picky Octopus

I volunteered at an aquarium and we had a very smart octopus. He would hide from you if the text on your shirt was black. He did not like back text. Didn't care about any other color of text or any color of a shirt. He would even hide from black text on black shirts. He also was not a fan of human females or getting close enough where your breath starts to fog on the glass. I definitely got the feeling that he had a reason for everything he did.

22165-1551741628438.jpgRay Krebs/Flickr

19. The Face Of Stink

I liked to show up early before my shift to watch the big cats get let out into their space. One morning, one of the lionesses was already out and she was sitting there, like the famous NY library lions, only with a Calvin face. Her tongue was hanging out and her eyes were squinched up. I asked the lead cat keeper what the deal was. "Oh, she ate a skunk yesterday, so we decided it'd be a good idea to let her stay outside overnight instead of stinking up the night house."

They opened the doors to the lions night house and her brother and sister came bounding up to her with what appeared to be great concern ("Where WERE you last night?"). Her sister took one whiff and bounded to another place in the exhibit. Her brother started to sit close to her, thought better of it, walked about six feet away and then settled down and watched her.

22166-1551741710078.jpgKaren Roe/Flickr

18. Terrifying Bandit

I could hear the lions making the most pitiful, pathetic bellowing sounds. I went to check on them and lo and behold a raccoon was up one of the trees in their enclosure. These two large alpha predators were absolutely terrified of a little raccoon. For his part, the raccoon was completely unbothered and just observed them for a bit before going on its way.

22186-1551743877207.jpgBob Hall/Flickr

17. Motherly Behavior

We have a family group of gibbons; parents, a subadult, and a baby. In the wild, young adult gibbons stay with their parents for a few years and learn how to take care of their younger sibling to prepare them for parenthood. Our young male, who is the equivalent of a 12-13-year-old human, once tried to grab the baby from mom, who smacked him upside the head. She then went back to teaching the toddler to climb by sitting next to the wire of the fence, letting her baby get six inches off the ground, then clutching him back to her chest because that was "high enough."


16. Chase The Keeper!

One of the lionesses at our zoo likes to play a game with one of the keepers doing morning rounds. She will purposefully wait at the edge of her enclosure until the moment he walks by and they can finally play 'chase.' That desire to just play a game with him is absolutely adorable!

22169-1551742108467.jpgMaia C/Flickr

15. There's Mud In My Eye

I’ve seen a nyala (a species of antelope) get a whole square of sod skewered upside down on his horns that eventually slid down and completely covered one of his eyes. He acted like nothing was happening.


14. Very Human Frustration

I'm an animal cognition researcher. I work teaching Barbary macaques to use touchscreens and to recognize shapes and images and behaviors. You can see them working out which images match and watch their eyes going between the display and the options they can pick. One of them, probably my favorite, gets so frustrated when he gets it wrong. He hits the wall of the enclosure and goes right on to the next one. You can also see him get more engaged and motivated to stay when he gets it right.

22171-1551742384989.jpgFr Maxim Massalim/Flickr

13. Tiny Hatred

I have a marmoset who just wants to murder me. He has this bizarre deep-seated hatred of me that he has for not a single other person at the zoo. I used to be hurt (especially since he used to love me) but now it’s borderline funny, especially since he’s this tiny one pound monkey who just DEATH GLARES at me daily.

22172-1551742440801.jpgLaura Wolf/Flickr

12. Grieving Over Broken Bonds

Many animals mourn if they lose a partner or infant. The specific instance that stands out in my memory was when one of our gerbils lost her mate and she refused to eat or nurse her pups for about two days afterward. She just laid there. Her misery was palpable. It was one of the saddest things I've ever seen. There was nothing physiologically wrong with her.

She eventually snapped out of it but her pups died because she refused to care for them. She had had many previous litters and had always been a good mother before that, and afterward had one final litter (she was already pregnant again when the male died), which she cared for just fine.

It's worth noting that not all animals do this, but gerbils, which mate for life, absolutely lose their minds if their mate dies. I have also witnessed this depressed, apathetic "mourning" behavior in pair-bonded rabbits.


11. Attempted Trickery

One polar bear I worked with was very sneaky and would try to trick new people. They love it when you act startled, so if you're a jumpy person you might as well paint a giant target on your forehead because they will try to act like they're not paying attention to you, and then OUTTA NOWHERE leap up and hit the bars at full height and make you freak out.

So back when I was new to this bear, I accidentally dropped a fish on my side of the bars. Your instinct is to pick it up, but that is exactly what you should NOT do because that puts you too close to the cage. He tried to stick his paw under and get it, but couldn't quite get it. He tried and tried, made sad puppy sounds, etc., but I ignored the fish on the ground, finished our session, and walked away. After I got a few paces away I looked back just in time to see him stick his paw under the bars, fully engulf the fish no problem, and pull it back under and eat it.

22177-1551742740204.jpgEdwin van Buuringen/Flickr

10. Mad Mama

At the LA zoo, I was looking in a big window at the gorilla habitat. Our new baby gorilla wandered away from a female, over to a large male gorilla and tried to get the male to play. The male smacked the baby away, making him go butt over teakettle for a few feet. The female gorilla stood up, grabbed the baby, stuck it on her hip, walked over to the male, and smacked him across the back of the head. The male just looked away.

22178-1551742836152.jpgMarieke IJsendoorn-Kuijpers/Flickr

9. I Know There Are Pills In There!

Been a zookeeper for almost two years now. We have a giraffe that has a couple of meds he has to take daily, but the little butthead will NOT take the same food from you two days in a row. He knows exactly what we’re up to and also happens to be the pickiest eater ever so sometimes it takes an hour to get five pills, the size of A TYPICAL ADVIL PILL, into this 2,000 lb animal.

22179-1551742899698.jpgPeter Miller/Flickr

8. Jackie's A Proper Lady

At the zoo in Bali, I watched our orangutan named Jackie sit down and pick up a pink cupcake wrapped in plastic that someone had thrown over the barrier. She then proceeded to take the plastic off and delicately remove the paper wrapper, tossing it aside. She ate it in tiny bites. Such a lady.

22180-1551743174525.jpgRestless mind/Flickr

7. Hedonism Bear

TJ, the black bear, was one of the laziest animals I have ever met. I regularly found him lying down, eating food out of his dish, off of his stomach Ballu-style with his legs spread in the direction of the oncoming breeze.

22181-1551743470724.jpgRodrigo Soldon Sousa/Flickr

6. Sprouts For Treats

Interning right now but I get to do everything the keepers do. We just had a new gorilla come into the troop and when she was still in quarantine we got to go visit her. We brought her some cake (which she loved) and whenever you gave her some she made a point of finding some of her food to give back to you. Apparently, she does this every time someone gives her a treat. Although, usually, she gives you a brussel sprout, which she doesn't like.

22182-1551743623505.jpgEric Kilby/Flickr

5. Otters Are Natural Rogues

My river otter has learned how to open the door to her habitat. A guest got a video of her pushing a fake rock over to the door, climb up on top of it, and start jiggling the door handle with her paws. Otter see, otter do! We make extra sure that door is locked now.

22183-1551743691753.jpgAnthony Brewer/Flickr

4. Why Me, Penguin God?

During penguin nesting season, I once saw a penguin couple who had built a nest way up high at the top of a mountain of rocks. The lady of the house decided that she needed to redecorate the home and sent the male to find a suitable rock to add to the decor. As he hopped down the rocks, he was squawked at and pecked at by several other penguins with nests, getting beat up all the way down to the ground where he started looking for pebbles.

He finds one he likes and ascends up the mountain to, once again, brave the very territorial, biting, screeching penguins along the way. He lays the pebble down for his female... And she slaps the stuffing out of him. She hates it.

Immediately getting the point, he returns for a third pass at now even more angry penguins back to the ground. This time, he's not playin'. He spends a good ten minutes looking for a rock that he likes...and BOOM! There it is! He tries to pick the rock up and immediately drops it. He tries again...drops it. Then he tries one final time and it's just too big for him to carry.

So his response? He throws his head back, flails his flippers about and cries to the sky. I did not see him return home for the rest of my shift.

22151-1551740069075.jpgBernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr

3. They Took My Egg

We had a lone male marabou stork who found a water bottle, picked it up and put it in his nest, then proceeded to incubate it for a while. He thought it was his baby and got mad when we eventually had to take it away from him.


2. My Turn Now

One time, I decided to have a play session with one of our polar bears. I took bucket lids (which are small enough to slide under the gap at the bottom of their fence) and smeared them with peanut butter, honey, and other treats. Then I got on the ground in front of the pen and was zipping the lid back and forth on the ground, just out of reach. The bear was pouncing along and having fun.

Finally, when I faked him out and he pounced left, I shot the lid under the cage to the right, air hockey style. He went bounding after it, ate the treats, and came back with it in his mouth. What he did next was the smartest and funniest thing I've ever seen an animal do.

He sat down in front of me with the lid still in his mouth and just looked at me for a few seconds. Then he dropped the lid to the floor, put a paw on it, and proceeded to zig-zag it back and forth just out of my reach as I did to him. Bears - 1 Keepers - 0.

22167-1551741812287.jpgToshihiro Moro/Flickr

1. Marine Hazing

Some dolphins will bait the new trainer into petting them. As soon as the hand gets close enough, they'll swipe their heads over really quick and pretend to try to bite them. Not because they actually want to bite, but because they like to elicit reactions and think the terrified trainer jumping backward is the greatest thing ever. Another thing they do is completely ignore new trainers or pretend to misunderstand what behavior the trainer is asking for. The dolphin toys with a trainer until it finally decides to cooperate. Exasperated trainer gets excited and 'jackpots' - or showers them with fish. Dolphin laughs and noms fish. They are smart, finicky little jerks.

22187-1551744020061.jpgMatt Stratton/Flickr