Tanganyika is a wonderful and interactive place, but it didn’t just become that way over night! The people who work at Tanganyika are the ones who keep this whole place continuing on it’s path to becoming one of the best zoo experiences in America! So we want to give credit where it is due by giving some of our most talented zoo keepers a chance to talk about what they do and who they are! This also gives you a chance to understand the hard work and creativity that goes into making TWP operate well from day to day. This month I talked to Derrick Maltman about his experience as a TWP keeper.
How long have you worked at Tanganyika? Two year as of the 14th of May!
What animals do you care for? I work with a verity of animals. I cover the giraffe routine, I also cover the children zoo and reptile routine, and I still occasionally cover or assist with roos and education animals. I was initial hired to do primate care, but they needed keepers in other areas so I transitioned though different parts of the park.
Who is your favorite animal here? We’re not supposed to have favorites as it suggests that we give more time and attention to an individual animal, but the animals I enjoy working with are the giraffes. Dudley, our male giraffe, has a lot of personality and then Peace is the calmest animal I’ve ever worked with at the park. I never have any problems with her and she always listens when you need to shift her around. I really enjoy working with them, but they’re not favorites.
If you could add an animal to Tanganyika’s line up? It’s a toss-up between hyenas or bats. I worked with a striped hyena at an internship one time and she was amazing, super calm. I got to do my first professional bit of enrichment design for her.
If you weren’t a zoo keeper what would you be? The original thing I wanted to be was a paleontologist. That changed when I learned that dinosaurs weren’t in Jurassic Park. So I was kind of devastated by that, so I decided to be a zoo keeper instead. If I can’t take care of dinosaurs I’ll take care of animals, but the day that we open Jurassic World I’ll be right there ready to sign up!
What is your favorite Tanganyika memory? My favorite Tanganyika memory is working with our old mandrill, Jerome. We used to do a mandrill demo and he would always be so stubborn with everyone else. The very first day when I showed up here and started primates, I was working with another keeper named Karen. She said, “Maybe you should try a couple of behaviors with him, so that way he can start to get used to you.” His hardest behavior was called Station which is getting him to move from where he currently is to a target that’s ten feet away. I walked up to him and I said, “Jerome. Station.” And he walked right over immediately. Karen was upset, “How did you do that? He never does it for me!” To pick one specific memory was when me and Jerome did a demo. At the end of it a woman in a wheelchair came up and she said, “I just want you to know, that this has been my favorite keeper talk. Jerome is such a beautiful animal. You did an excellent job. Today is my 90th birthday and it has been my dream to visit every zoo in the state of Kansas before I die and Tanganyika was the last one, and you made this visit all worthwhile.”
What is your favorite Tanganyika event? Pumpkins at the Park. Because my favorite holiday is Halloween. Hands down! I take on the role of Big Grim. He is a twelve foot tall grim reaper. I sit at a bench and dance the chicken dance occasionally, when it’s required. I like to stand up at the end of the bench and just not move for about 15 minutes. I don’t move or say anything. Then people will come up and take pictures with me. There was this one woman who swore she knew I was real, but her friends talked her into taking a picture with me. So I stood very still and let them take the picture. Then just as she was going to walk away I whispered, “Where are you going?” She took off running. I didn’t see her for the rest of the day. She just took off.
Favorite meal served at the pavilion deli? When I go out there I always like to grab a pickle. I love pickles. I also like to grab some candy. I have a sweet tooth.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to become a zoo keeper? I was nine. I was like “Hey Mom! I want to go work at Jurassic Park and work with dinosaurs.” And she told me that dinosaurs are extinct and don’t exist anymore. So I was like, “Oh! Well, who takes care of animals? Zoo keepers? That’s what I want to do!” This was at the time when Crocodile Hunter and Jeff Corwin were on Animal Planet and I said, “That’s me right there. That’s what I’ll do.” I decided at that point in my life that I was going to school to become a zoo keeper and I would one day own my own zoo. That’s the crazy ambition of a nine-year-old, which I still maintain to this day!
Which animal are you most like? Well, if I could choose ANY animal it would be a dragon. For a living, non-mythical creature… Probably a wolf. A timber wolf specifically. They’re a large, majestic animal and I’ve always loved dogs and wolves. They are in a family group. They take care of each other and look out for each other. I value family very much. Having a close family group and even friends who I can call family is important to me. I always want to be part of a pack. My own little wolf pack.