Stand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert tries his hand at zoo keeping at Welsh Mountain Zoo, North Wales, and learns the realities of modern day exotic animal care.
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THIS PROGRAMME CONTAINS SOME STRONG LANGUAGE.
I'm Rhod Gilbert, stand-up comedian. I'm ditching my regular job
and trying something completely different.
This is my work experience.
And this week, I'm a zoo keeper.
I had no idea how to prepare for being a zoo keeper.
The closest I've come to working with animals
is hoovering round my mum's cat.
So, I set off in search of our four-legged friends.
That's animals, not tables.
The scent of exotic dung took me
to the North Wales Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay.
Where 69 species of animal,
and one species of visiting public was waiting for me.
Not quite sure what to expect from a mountain zoo.
A couple of goats, a climbing pig,
a goldfish that's forgotten its natural habitat.
-I dunno, what is a mountain zoo?
Is he talking to me?
I never really saw what the big deal was about Dr Doolittle.
"He can talk to the animals." Anyone can talk to the animals.
Hello. It's getting them to talk back, that's the tricky bit.
My grandma used to talk to cutlery. Nobody called her a doctor.
Well, they did, but he just sedated her. Life goes on.
First job, find the head zoo keeper. Pete was to the zoo,
what Keith Harris's hand was to Orville.
He knew it inside out. With many deadly animals around, and myths
of what to do in the event of an attack,
finally, some serious advice from an expert.
All of the staff need to know what to do if an animal escapes.
Now, a category one animal, which is our most dangerous,
if you like, things like the chimpanzee, tiger,
the procedure for that is just to hide.
I know that sounds daft!
Sorry. When it said, "escape procedure," it means hide?
It's to go and hide yourself away, somewhere safe.
The chimps won't count to 10 before they come after you?
-Where are you going to hide?
-You've to be calm about this. You've got to walk away.
If a tiger escapes, I tell you now,
there's no way I'm going to be keeping calm.
The one word safety briefing hadn't filled me with confidence.
It sounded like extreme hide and seek.
But anyone with a file with "zoo" written on it must really know their shit.
And I felt a lot safer when he gave me a tiger resistant fleece.
Got the uniform on. Bona fide zoo keeper.
Quite excited about this,
a little bit nervous of a category one escape, but still.
To reassure me even further,
Pete had the latest in high-tech safety equipment.
It's just a referee's whistle. We use this as a call for help, basically.
-Could be an escaped animal, could be that there is a fire.
That's for a small fire.
Tiger's escaped. You should know that.
If a chimp or a tiger did escape, I'd just blow my whistle
and tell them they were offside.
I was ready for a whistle-stop tour. What is it? A snow leopard?
-A snow leopard, yeah.
-It looks so strokeable.
They will mate 20 or 30 times a day, but for only about three days a year.
Well, I think we've all done that.
Get it over with in a batch, that's what I do.
Some people are passionate about lizards and snakes,
as some people are passionate about cats.
-It's just the more reptile people.
-It's a bit odd, isn't it?
I must be a bit odd then, because I've got some of these.
I'm definitely not a tortoise person.
Part of the problem of being a tortoise, you can see, that one's been to the toilet,
and because they're so slow, he still hasn't got away from it yet.
-What kind of penguins are these then?
-These are Humboldt penguins.
-One of the rarest penguins.
-Are they shivering?
They're not shivering as we would know, for the cold.
There's something going on, they're slightly nervous.
-Because there's a new keeper in town.
They're not going to recognise you straight away, obviously.
What? Don't they watch telly?
-That seagull up on the roof there, is he part of the zoo?
-Or is he visiting?
-This is Gus, male Andean condor.
-Oh, my God!
-It's a big bird.
-Oh, I almost had my whistle out then.
Tamarins, which are these little South American primates.
-What the hell is that? That is a little monkey person. Have you dressed them up?
-No, no, that's it.
It looks like you've put them in little wigs and moustaches.
Go and have a look at the spider monkey.
God, that is a weird looking thing, isn't it? It's quite camp.
It's got quite a camp run. Look at that!
Males are very difficult to sex when they're all fluffy, cos you can't see anything.
We've all made those mistakes. There's more to zoo keeping than looking at knobs.
One of those zoo's most popular shows was Chimpanzee World.
Think World Of Leather, but with better furniture,
and more knowledgeable staff.
Zoe, the zoo's resident chimp whisperer, usually did the shows,
and introduced me to everyone.
So, this is Groat at the feeding chute, at the moment here.
We've got Katie here, who's having a snooze herself, and her sister, Jill, up at the top here.
How can you tell them apart?
You do spend a lot of time with them,
it is like looking at a group of people,
and you do recognise their facial features very easily.
-Those are as different to you as we are to me?
-Who's this fella?
-This is Jasper. He's just saying,
"Come on, give me some more!"
He's going bonkers.
Because he's never usually allowed to get to the feeding chute,
because it's all about hierarchy here.
This type of thing, you'll be doing on Thursday.
So, it's just a case of trying to learn all of the chimps.
The public won't know, I'll just make it up.
I was worried. You could fit everything I know about chimps on the back of a teabag,
and call me chimpist, but they all look the same to me.
-How long does it take to get to know them all?
-It took me a few weeks,
probably about a month in total.
What would they do if you went in there?
-You would be lucky if you got out alive, I think.
-They'd just rip you to bits?
-The glass is cracked down there.
Luckily this is double-paned, bullet-proof glass.
He's smashed bullet-proof glass?
Yeah. It's just wear and tear over time. They're so fascinating.
-They are wonderful.
-I thought that was one of them coming out then!
-I thought, "Oh, Christ, he's got..."
-It's all right, it's only Becky.
He's ignored the no exit sign, and he's coming out.
Great, I had to get to know 11 bullet-proof, glass smashing ninja chimps in two days.
If that wasn't enough, Pete dropped another bombshell at the sea lion enclosure.
You have to watch this carefully, because tomorrow,
or the next day, you'll be feeding, and hopefully training the sea lions.
-What will I be able to get a sea lion to do?
-Probably balance a ball.
Probably to get a kiss. Maybe a handshake.
I'll just do the ball, I think.
Pete wanted me to work with the zoo's
sofa-sized Californian sea lion, Cousteau.
A couple of mints wouldn't go amiss.
Zoe and Cousteau's well-rehearsed and choreographed display
had taken years to perfect, but in two days, I'd be his new partner.
Cousteau was a 50-stone S&M gimp with breath like a sardine's bidet,
and whiskers like the hairs on Peter Stringfellow's bath mat.
I can't imagine doing this at all.
That's not intelligent, that's stupid.
He had the whole pool to swim in,
and he managed to get trapped in all three rings.
How do you do it? There's no way I can do that. There's not a chance.
No, I think it's doable, but it is going to be difficult.
How long does it take to get that kind of relationship?
Probably about two years.
They won't be completely comfortable with you, vice versa,
but they will do it.
Cousteau may do it, but I'd rather pull my pants down in the chimp enclosure and shout,
"Who's next at the feeding chute?" than get in there with him.
Sensing I was bricking it about the chimp and gimp shows, Zoe gave me an idiot-proof one to start me off.
The daily penguin parade. Chimp show, there's a lot to learn.
The sea lion show, there's a lot of training to learn and stuff, this,
apparently, you just walk out with a bucket of fish, and they follow you.
This is a gentle introduction to the public side of zoo keeping.
Apparently, nothing could go wrong.
With a bucket of fish I'd be the Pied Penguin Piper.
As long as I didn't look back and scare them, they'd follow me.
If you look to the right hand side of the arena,
you'll start to see Rhod bringing out
our lovely group of Humboldt penguins.
It's OK, keep coming,
they'll hopefully follow us in just a minute.
If you don't want to become extinct, you little shits,
you follow me out there, there's people who've paid to see a parade,
and that's what they'll get.
I know we're all tired. Come on then, come on.
-Are they coming? Are they there?
Looks like Rhod's given up on them as well.
I'm not giving up, I'm going to get violent! There's a crowd of people there. I'm dying on my arse.
-You can't knock his efforts here for trying.
-Let's go. Let's go.
-sake. What is this shit?
Come on. It's going ahead anyway.
You can do the parade by yourself.
You don't need any penguins, that's fine, you carry on.
Rhod has done a fantastic job here for us this afternoon,
trying to be a very good penguin.
That's a lovely penguin impression as well.
It was the worst penguin show since my auntie fired
a chocolate biscuit out of her nether regions
in Newport Rugby Club.
I was tempted to p-p-pick up a p-p-pissing penguin
and p-p-push him off a cliff.
You left me looking a right dick up there.
50 people standing there, paid for a penguin parade, what have they got?
Me wandering around with a bucket full of fish.
You think that's worth £8.95?
10 years apparently, they've been training for this! 10 years.
Every day they walk out there and back.
I'd never had my confidence shattered so badly by a penguin.
To rebuild it, Pete planned to pack my next day
-as tightly as Cousteau's Speedos.
-Busy day tomorrow.
I think first thing we've got to move the baby camel, knock out two horses,
feed and clean a tiger, feed and clean the bears.
It's like a Rolf Harris wet dream, isn't it?
I'm looking forward to getting a little bit more involved,
a little bit more hands-on, a little bit more of me doing, rather than me watching.
I have got to learn all the chimps' names and what they look like.
I don't want to be rude to chimps, I can see absolutely no discernible difference.
Some of these animals look friendly, but they're actually pretty nasty.
They want me to kiss Cousteau, the sea lion. I'm not particularly looking forward to that.
There's a little bit of nerves and trepidation
because it could all go horribly wrong.
My hands-on day. Zoo keeper talk for shovelling shit.
With my trusty safety whistle in my pocket, it was time to get more intimate with the animals.
This is the macaw moverer, AKA, broom-handle.
You sit on the fence.
And we're off. It's bloody heavy!
It's like a surreal version of Britain's Strongest Man, this is.
This should only take literally seconds to get into the horsebox.
Just be aware that it can kick, it can bite, possibly spit.
Jesus Christ on a bike!
-Have you ever been bitten by one of these?
Honestly, I will level with you, I was expecting a no there.
I was expecting, "No, they don't bite." I do not like it.
-So, what have I got...
-These are all muscle.
Well, they are winning me around a bit, but I still think he's a dick.
But I quite like him now.
My confidence was soaring.
I'd fondled a python, and stood up to the zoo's killer goat.
So, Pete decided I was ready to feed some more deadly animals.
We headed to the kitchens of the zoo's on-site KFC.
I'm not quite sure what those are.
-That's quite posh, quail?
-Uncooked posh quail.
-I've never had it.
-Who's having it?
-We're going to give it to the tiger.
-Do you cook it, or does he have his raw?
-Oh, it's all raw, yeah!
-Oh, what's that that's come out there?
-Oh, that's an unshelled egg.
Cooking is all about presentation.
This raw bird recipe might not look great, but stick Nigella Lawson in a low-cut top next to it
and it'll look like sticky toffee pudding.
The Frosties advert would be a lot less appealing
if it was showing me doing this, and a tiger going, "They're great!"
You can see why, for kids, it just wouldn't sell.
The party bucket was for an inmate in category one,
His name alone struck terror into all that heard it.
Bryn, Bryn, Bryn!
He's the most majestic thing I've ever seen, and his name is Bryn!
Honestly, you might as well have called him Clive.
Hang on, Bryn.
Oh, my God.
This is so much more impressive then when my mother feeds our cat.
Puss, puss, puss, puss. Oh, Christ!
That was the egg yolk bursting in my face.
Do you know, normally, I really like a runny yolk!
I was about to give Bryn a good kicking when Tom brought news
the bears were having a picnic.
It's a little-known fact wild bears are keen bakers,
so Tom and I rustled up the bare necessities.
Before we go in, I need to lock the bears into there. Into their pits.
Because we don't go in with the category one animals.
If you're not back here in five, I'll blow the whistle, yeah?
-Yeah, if you hear screaming then I won't either.
I've got to hide this food around their thing. Basically, in the wild they forage for food,
so, I think we've got to try and replicate that in there.
So, I'm already thinking, where can I hide a Bakewell Slice?
It's your ideas to improve the animal's life,
and make it as natural as possible.
Just shove them in there.
Oh, right, yeah. I'll put a strawberry in here.
Yeah, you can put a strawberry in there.
You can put grapes on top of here, if you want.
This is like having kids!
Chains through there, and had stuff coming off,
so it's like a bear mobile.
It's a right laugh being a bear. My mother used to do this with a treasure hunt.
Exactly like this. What's the date on these? Want a bit?
-No, I'm good, thanks.
-I need to hide my plums somewhere.
I want the bear, basically, to look around for a while,
and then find my plums and then explode with excitement.
With my plums jammed firmly under a rock, the bears were released.
Just such beautiful, powerful creatures.
I wonder which one will find my plums first?
Look at that!
There's two of them now, circling my plums.
They've passed them over.
I've just realised how bad all of that plum stuff sounds.
All I meant was I was looking forward to seeing them claw
into the soft flesh of my... Oh, God, sorry.
Feeding plums and almond slices to bears was a picnic.
My next feeding job was barely bearable.
Feeding live locusts to the freaky monkey people freaks.
That's the most revolting thing I've ever done in my life,
holding a live locust to be eaten by a freaky monkey little... shit.
Quick, please! Take it!
This, in my hand here. Quick.
He had better hurry up or I'm going to throw up.
You horrible little freaky monkey person. Come on.
Freaky monkey person trapped in a monkey's body! Urgh!
'While the freaks sucked out the warm insides of their locust lollipops, I did a runner.
'To cheer me up, Tom had a job he said was simples.'
First off, how do you catch a meerkat?
Ever caught polecats before? Or any small mammal?
You know as you grab them round the back of their head,
-then you hold...
-I have never caught a polecat, so...
'I haven't smelt anything this bad since I borrowed Charlie Sheen's sleeping bag.'
The air is dense, the air is thick with the smell of urine.
It is like a cat's piss jam that's been boiled down.
It's how they mark out their territory.
Well, their territory is safe, honestly. They can stop marking.
-Shall I go in?
-Yes. You make your way in.
You want to move slowly, we don't want to cause a mass panic.
And the speed that they run and my lack of any clue
of what I'm doing. It is like a fairground attraction.
It's like Whack The Rat, only Catch The Meerkat.
-There we go.
God, look at them. Get a couple up there, surely.
Yes. Get in!
-It either goes right or it doesn't go right.
-(That was my fault.)
'I had scored an impressive seven in Bag A Meerkat.
'But the next game was a Shoot 'Em Up.'
-Let's go and shoot these otters, shall we, Peter?
-Am I going to shoot one?
'Only a fool would ask these wild Mongolian horses why they had a long face.
'Firstly they were Mongolian and spoke limited English. Secondly, they faced extinction.'
If you see a dart lying on the floor,
don't pick it up, just leave it.
Literally a drop of it into an open wound would kill a primate. And we are primates.
It's quite dangerous.
I have had quite a lot of ketamine.
I haven't. I haven't.
We have got to get one of them down to trim his hooves.
But apparently the others get a bit frisky while that is happening.
This could be another panic moment for me.
'Pete explained that the problem with the mountain zoo was that the animals were all on a slope.
'We had to shorten their legs on one side to help them stand up straight.'
In terms of the conservation effort, there were how many of these left?
-It was down to just a dozen or so.
-Something like that.
They were all taken into various zoos and then slowly got the numbers up to probably several thousand now.
At least we have got animals in zoos, so that if ever needed, and I think they probably will be,
they will be there to go back in the wild.
'These horses have been saved from extinction by zoo keepers like Pete.
'And from falling over by leg trimmers like me.'
It will be nice to see him back on his feet.
Everybody else is blase about this,
but I really wanted to clap then.
I thought, I am like an American on a plane.
'His new stumps were a success.
'He could gallop freely round the slopey zoo,
'as long as he didn't try and go back the other way, he'd be fine.
'I was still worried about the shows I had to do the next day.
'My main fear was getting up close to the massive, fish-stained gimp, Cousteau.
'So Pete took me to meet a portable travel version, washed up on a nearby beach.'
Look at how cute he is.
So this is one of the grey seals that was washed up off the North Wales coast.
They can be very aggressive. Very sharp teeth, full of bacteria.
To restrain this, it would probably take two or three people, honestly.
You wouldn't think so,
but they're really incredibly strong and powerful.
'He was no taller than a loaf of bread,
'but apparently if it all kicked off, this 10-inch mini-gimp could be a right flipper-full.
'He was well enough to go home.
'Sweeping him into a cage, chucking him in the back of a van
'and driving him to a deserted beach reminded me of childhood family holidays in Wales.'
We have come down to Penrhyn Bay
on the North Wales coast to release this seal.
Hopefully, he will go in there. Is this what zoo keeping is all about?
It's what it is partly about.
This is the really nice bit, the immediate bit.
Conservation is more long-term, you might be looking at five years,
10 years, 50 year, 100 years.
So this is quite nice in the short term. This is the ultimate end.
Brilliant. OK. Let's go and lob him in the sea then.
-So what are his chances of survival?
-Pretty good. Probably about 50/50.
-Is that pretty good, is it?
-That is excellent, really.
Point him the right way.
Right, Roger, are you ready?
Come on, Roger. Out you come.
Go on, Roger.
Look at that.
I think people have this sort of fantasy of what wild is
all about, they're free in the wild, living naturally.
In fact, it is a hard, harsh, nasty kill or be killed world out there.
And this has just got to learn all of that.
'Talking of being killed, back at the zoo,
'it was time to get in with Cousteau.
'If it took three people to restrain the 10-inch travel version
'we just released, Cousteau was a one-sea-lion army,
'like Chuck Norris in a PVC onesie.
'But if I was to do a show with him, had to overcome my fear of this wet-look leather lardmobile.'
There is no need to be nervous at all. He is really, really good.
You can ask him to give you a nice wave. I'll just feed him for that.
All you have to do is just walk up really nice and boldly
and just be like, yeah.
Lean into him and he will give you a nice big kiss.
He can do it on your cheek if you don't want to do lips just yet.
-Are you not kissing him?
-No. Has he ever bitten anyone?
I'll throw him a fish. It's nothing personal. Well, it is personal.
Do you want to throw a hoop into the pool?
-He can go and get that and then feed him afterwards.
-Change of plan.
I want you not to go through it.
Avoid it, yeah? Avoid this.
Avoid the ring!
He's like Gollum. Obsessed.
-Now I have to get you out of that, because you're stuck.
He's fine. Just go in there and take it off. Keep going, that's it.
Oh, my God!
-Genuinely quite scary. He is a big old lump.
'Rhod and Cousteau would never be Brad and Angelina.
'Nobody would ever call us Rhousteau, but at least I was in there with him.
'As long as tomorrow's show did not involve me doing anything else whatsoever, we'd be fine.'
What a clever lad! Well done.
I had an auntie who walked like that.
'I'd made progress with Cousteau, but still couldn't tell one chimp's arse from another one's elbow.
'So Pete gave me a jungle VIP pass to get to know them better.'
You're going to help me with a chimp presentation.
I can't remember your names. And you all look the same to me.
-This is Euro.
-Who's that? Who the hell is this bruiser?
That's him, Sixpence, who's the alpha male.
He is huge. I am not surprised. He is enormous.
-All right, Sixpence? This is Groat.
I can't tell the difference. Nickel!
Tuppence has learned a little bit of sign language,
so she can point out an empty bottle and then at the tap
and then at you, so she is quite clever.
The others have never learned that. You look into the eyes of a chimp and think there is something going on,
like looking into the eyes of a girlfriend.
That says more about you than it does about the chimp.
Where is the tap? Where is the tap, Tuppence? Where's the tap, Tuppence?
Where is the tap? Where is the tap? Peter, where's the tap?
-It's over there.
-'Peter proudly told me not only could Tuppence order
'a round of drinks, but she was also an accomplished painter.
'I was starting to see why he'd gone out with her in the first place.'
Euro, you don't even like drawing. Stop interfering with the artistic process.
Euro, you are just being disruptive.
OK, you can have a little bit, Euro. You go over there and eat your paint
and we're going to do a painting over here.
This is a Honda Accord 1987 by Tuppence.
'Paint wasn't really Tuppence's medium,
'so I give her felt tips and a flipchart and asked her to draw
'some caricatures of her friends to help me remember them. The results were simply astonishing.'
This is Mabel, who is our oldest chimp.
This is Euro, who is very, very sociable.
He is depicted here leaning over a wall, chatting with his neighbours.
This is Tuppence, who is the only bald chimp in the group.
Top chimp is Sixpence -
that is how I'm going to remember him, music booming.
Last but not least, Coron is distinctive mainly in this area,
cos he has massive nuts.
'I was getting there slowly, but I was still anxious about
'the next day's shows. And that night I had nightmares.
'Cousteau and a leather whip,
'freaky monkey people sucking locust lollipops and most scarily of all,
'Pete and Tuppence on the backseat of a Honda Accord. Next morning, Penguin-gate still haunted me.
'I needed the chimps to put on a bullet-proof-glass-smashing show to make up for it.'
I don't know anything about these chimps.
I had a quick pep talk with Tuppence and Euro and Sixpence earlier,
but I have no idea. I don't recognise any of them.
Get them to ask questions, that's a good technique.
Or get them to tell me what they know about chimps. That's the one.
-Are you all right? Why don't you tell me what you know about chimps?
And then I can tell you the rest.
-They eat fruit.
-They eat fruit. They do eat fruit. Well done!
Good. Um... They do eat fruit... don't they?
Does anybody have any questions about chimps?
You probably have so many, you can't think of any off the top of your head.
Is that what it is?
'I couldn't have asked for more.
The chimps put on a blinding acrobatic display and the crowd lapped it up.'
Well, it's a hell of a show today, isn't it?
I failed to engage the public and the chimps.
Do you know what I was looking at? That was so awkward.
That was a bloody... That and the penguins.
Today is turning into a nightmare.
'Like a vicar hurriedly trying to hide a blow-up doll, the penguins
'and chimps had let me down badly.
'I headed to my final show, my last chance of dignity in the flippers of a critically obese French sea lion.'
If he lets me down today, I don't care who is watching,
I will beat him to within an inch of his fat life.
You touch my sea lion, you are going in that pool.
-I am much scarier than Cousteau.
'An expectant crowd had gathered. We had to pull this off.
'Cousteau and I had rehearsed. It was time to deliver.
'Welcome to Strictly Come Gimping.'
# Baby, you're so tasty, tasty
# I don't really want to waste it... #
Don't let me down now, Cousteau.
# So put your back into it And let your mind go... #
He's doing all right. Cousteau is doing all right.
# I know you wanna go crazy I know you wanna go wild
# I know you wanna go crazy... #
-I think he really likes you, Rhod.
-The feeling is mutual.
'A new showbiz partnership had been born. Rhousteau.'
-Well done! That was really good.
-That was all right. We did all right.
Yeah, you both did really well.
-How do you think I got on?
-To be honest, I think it was all right.
In the circumstances, average.
No, in the circumstances, I would say above average.
In this zoo, the keepers feel like a family, but the animals are included. It's one big family.
With the best will in the world, if you work in Tesco's, you don't get passionate over a tin of beans
or a packet of cornflakes. But here, everyone is passionate about their own little bit.
If it all doesn't work out for me in stand-up comedy, then I might be back.
-Asking for a job.
-I will. No phone calls.
'The last three days has just been amazing. It is an amazing job.'
Look at that. It's just great, isn't it? What a way to finish.
It has been fun, fascinating, informative,
it has been a massive privilege to get this close to animals
I never thought I would get close to at all.
I feel like I know a lot more about the conservation angle,
and for these guys here, the zoo keepers here at least,
that is a huge factor in what motivates them.
Peter and the rest of the zoo keepers here have done a fairly good job of convincing me
zoos are a really important part of the conservation jigsaw.
Part of a bigger picture that contributes to ensuring that
some of the most endangered animals on this planet
will survive for generations to come.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Rhod Gilbert leaves his regular job as a stand-up comedian to try out four new ones. He has to try and become a modern day Doctor Dolittle as a zoo keeper at Welsh Mountain Zoo, North Wales. Looking after tigers, sea lions and freaky monkeys, Rhod faces up to the realities of exotic animal care - and he cannot even remember the monkeys' names.