So, first: everybody is totally fine, my blog silences are not anything bad. Except my job, which still sucks, and I haven’t won the lottery, and I’m cranky and tired. But there may be a light at the end of this endless tunnel, maybe. Let’s hope it is not a train.
I took a day off earlier this month and spent it on retirement job research. I went to Animal Kingdom with a purpose beyond getting the F out of my office for a day. I wanted to talk to Cast Members (hereafter CM) about how they got the jobs I wanted. I’ve joked for years that my dream job is working the gorilla enclosure at Animal Kingdom, and talking to guests about my favorite animals. I now feel that this might, maybe? be possible.
I made a reservation for an “extra” tour, an optional private tour offered in the park. It was only available at 9 a.m. that day, which meant I had to leave the house earlier than I would if I’d been going to the office, which I do very infrequently. I barely made it, mostly because I’m out of practice at getting out of the house at all, and Eddie was mighty put out about the entire concept.
I made it to the tour with about 5 minutes to spare. Caring for Giants is a behind the scenes hour with a keeper, getting the “insider info” on the elephants. In all the many visits I’ve made to Animal Kingdom I’ve never done any of these tours, because they fill up fast. When I found a slot at 9 a.m. when I was already planning to visit I snagged it, and I’m glad I did.
We met at a booth near the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, checked in, got our lanyards with our badges, and got the lecture about animals, dust, allergies, etc. etc. before signing the release to do the tour. It was a very small group, just a dozen of us, half kids under 10. Our guide was a young guy who knew his stuff. We got to go into the behind the scenes area of the park, which looks like any industrial park kind of place, and boarded a small bus and bumped over very bumpy dirt roads behind the public area of the park, where we went up a ramp (wheelchair accessible, though you might need a push) to a viewing area behind the safari.
We were lucky, three elephants were right there having breakfast. There’s no guarantee you’ll get close to elephants because they are free to wander wherever they want, but that day Stella and her mom Donna and another matriarch whose name I’ve forgotten were hanging out.
This is Stella. I remember when she was born! She’s 7 years old now, and still totally a mama’s girl, which drives her mom Donna a bit crazy. She keeps trying to ditch the kid, but Stella has to eat with mom and sleep near her. The keepers are working on gently separating her from mom so she can become a big girl with the herd. Donna is ready for her to go be an elephant. We saw Donna walk away, and sure enough, as soon as she did, Stella noticed and started to follow her.
Totally a Mommy’s Girl.
So, the tour was great, there was tons of information about Disney’s role as an accredited zoo and what that means, and the elephants in particular, and it’s all impressive. Our guide was personable and informative, and even with all my many trips to Disney World over the years, I learned new things about more than the elephants. I did not know that Disney World grows 85% of the food for the animals on their own property! I knew Disney owns a lot of land and knew they grow a lot of the food they serve in their restaurants on property, but didn’t realize they fed the animals too! Our guide pointed out that it makes so much sense because they don’t deal with market prices or supplier issues, and they do their own quality control. They can literally look at fruit on the vine/tree and judge its ripeness, instead of opening a box and seeing what they were shipped. There’s so much going on at WDW, it’s a huge employer and an innovator of so many things the public doesn’t notice.
The name tags in our lanyards were fun, because they were printed on paper that was made from 85% recycled elephant poop. Not kidding. Again, it just makes sense; elephants eat tons of fibrous plants all day long, and poop all day long. Somebody figured out how to wash the poop and recycle the fiber left behind. It is kind of a cute gimmick thing now, but as our guide pointed out, elephants produce poop all day, every day, while it takes many years to grow a single tree. Paper recycled from the poop of grazing animals makes a lot of sense.
The kids in our group were of course fascinated, and also were dared to touch a (sealed) elephant poop our guide had with him. It really did look like a globe made of mulch. As poop goes, it’s very tidy.
So after the tour was over and we were saying our goodbyes, I asked our guide what his educational background was and how he ended up with what is basically my dream job. (He was a young guy in his mid 20s. I’m a 65 year old corporate burnout.) He was happy to talk about his path and even give me advice on getting hired. (Basically, get in anywhere, retail, park cars, whatever, and then make a lateral move.) He did tip me off that there’s a public facing job that involves talking to kids in the park that’s a great step toward doing the animal education stuff. I have filed that tip away in my plans.
And I got to talk to a woman my age who has my ultimate dream job, talking to the public about the gorillas. She’s been with Disney for 30 years and says she still can’t believe she gets paid to do what she does. I wish I could say that. She offered the same advice as the young CM, get hired for whatever you can do at first, then make a lateral move to what you want to do.
I’m totally serious that I’d be happy behind the scenes chopping vegetables for the small animals. It’d be more fulfilling than what I do now.
Seriously, would you rather sit at a desk and stare at maps and databases, or prep food to feed these little darlings?
The baby Cottontop Tamarin twins are already climbing and jumping!