The first sound I hear in the morning is the gentle bubbling of falling water, and I can almost imagine that I’m sleeping next to a waterfall. But although everything is a little damp like I’m camping, the waterfall is actually just the fish quarantine, which happens to reside in the entryway of the zoo research house where I’m staying. Leaving for the clinic, I bid good morning to the red pandas, who watch me with distrustful eyes, and the the wattled cranes, who peck at the fence as I walk past. I smile and tell them good morning anyway, because it isn’t often that I get to chat with a critically endangered species as the start to my day.
Morning rounds involve checking on all the animals in the hospital – meerkats, monkeys, leopard tortoises, leopard geckos, a hornbill, a nene, guira cuckoos, bearded dragons. Treatments include giving the green-cheeked conure her nebulizer, and putting one of the bearded dragons in to soak. There’s usually a small lull right after morning treatments are done, and someone will offer to make everyone coffee – there’s a chart in the small kitchen that lists how everyone takes their coffee, which I think is a lovely touch to build community.
Every day seems to involve a ride in the bakkie (pronounced buckie), which is what South Africans call a pick up truck. The first day I just assumed they were saying “buggy,” but my Insider’s Guide to Johannesburg informed me that evening that I was wrong. Anyway, we pile into the bakkie with a basket full of medical supplies and zoom around the zoo to sedate and transport gembocks, vaccinate hornbills, swans, and cranes, feed elephants strawberry ProNutro balls filled with medication, or examine an ouchy-looking spider monkey toe that’s missing a nail.
After the day is done, I’m left to myself back in the zoo research house. I sleep behind three locked doors, on the zoo complex, which is protected by a manned security gate and a patrol that circulates the property at night with flashlights. This freaked me out a little at first (Is it really so dangerous that I need THREE locked doors to protect me?), but I’ve now figured out that it’s more for enabling levels of access than protection. The aquarists can get into the entryway to take care of the fish, but they can’t get into the rest of the house. The person who comes to clean once a week can get into the entryway and the rest of the house, but not the bedrooms.
As of the conclusion of my first week, I’m the only student in the hospital. This is great, because it means that I get all the experience, but it’s also incredibly lonely, and I’ve had way too much time to myself. The word ‘hornbill’ by itself (let alone the actual animal) is enough to get a particular Disney song stuck in my head, and with data being $25/100 MB, I’m not exactly planning on streaming music anytime soon. I somehow managed to remove all the music from my phone, so for several days (until I got access to wifi to re-download it), I was all alone with the music stuck in my head – and the waterfall in the entryway. All the more reason to get out and explore Johannesburg!