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Working with wild things

Barclay Fernandez

By Barclay Fernandez
March 18, 2017 at 9:04 p.m.
Updated March 18, 2017 at 11:40 p.m.

Kash Clark, 24, takes some time out of his day to bond with the lion Aesa  at The Texas Zoo in Victoria.

Kash Clark, 24, takes some time out of his day to bond with the lion Aesa at The Texas Zoo in Victoria.   Barclay Fernandez for The Victoria Advocate

Kash Clark spends his workdays bonding with creatures from the wild. And every day, he tries to discover a new personality trait about each of the animals he cares for.

Clark, 24, is one of five animal keepers at the Texas Zoo, where he has worked the past four years.

Growing up, Clark was intrigued by animals and fascinated with how the animal brain works.

"I've always wanted to take care of them," said Clark, who grew up in Victoria. "Our lions, just like any other cats, love cardboard boxes. We put other animal scents on the boxes so the lions may smell it or tear it up."

One of the best parts about being an animal keeper, he said, is when he trains the zoo animals.

Clark has been training Cora, a barn owl, for the past year.

"She is the closest animal to me," he said.

A few times a day, Clark trains Cora by walking around with her on a glove. He also feeds her and talks to her while she perches on his hand. This allows him to get to know Cora more intimately, he said.

The goal of training is to make Cora familiar with perching on a glove as they walk around the zoo, Clark said.

He also spends time with the red rust lemur and the golden-handed tamarin by touching, petting and bonding with them.

The first thing Clark does when he gets to the zoo is survey all the animals. He visually inspects the animals for any injuries they might have suffered during the night.

"I pick up my keys and my radio," he said. "I always need a radio because we are at a zoo with dangerous animals."

After checking on all the animals, Clark inspects the exhibits to make sure they are not damaged.

"A long time ago, a tree landed on an exhibit," he said. "No harm came to the animals because they were inside a concrete building."

Next on Clark's list is the morning cleaning. He gives all of the animals clean drinking water and cleans out the pond in the tiger exhibit.

He is the animal keeper in charge of the wild cats. Shifting the cats from its bedding area to the exhibits requires two people for safety.

"We want to have two sets of eyes and hands on each lock," he said.

The animals' diets are prepared a day in advance. Each animal has a specific amount of food in their meals, which are closely monitored and recorded.

Many of the animals have a night house, and each wild cat has their own quarters. They are cleaned every day with sanitizer, water and a scrubbing brush.

"It is also where they eat, so we try to get it super clean," he said.

Clark also answers questions from zoo guests throughout the day.

In the evening, the animals that need to be shifted back inside are moved.

The most rewarding part of Clark's job is what he has learned, he said.

"Interacting and seeing how all of these animals operate intrigues me," he said. "I interact with the primates differently than I would an alligator."

As an animal keeper, Clark said he is able to form relationships with a variety of creatures.

"It's the best part," he said. "It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun."


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