Previous Return to Timeline Next

1950's

Being a bird keeper at the zoo

By Tanny (Edwin) Robinson

One day I was informed that one of my crowned cranes had flown over the seven foot high fence of its pen; I found it in the isle between the Wapiti fence and the fence where it had escaped from. I slowly walked towards it and got a shock when it ran towards me flapping its wings. I noticed it only had one and a half flight feathers on one wing. Suddenly it took off and started flying up over my head, I jumped up and managed to grasp one leg and pulled it down, whilst wrestling with it, one claw caught in my flannelette trousers and ripped a gash over a foot long, very embarrassing for me, thankfully Mary from Skelmesdale, the ape keeper managed to stitch it up. The chimps made me blush by screaming and yelling when they saw me without my trousers on.

The birds in the parrot house were not all parrots; there were the fascinating ground hornbills and the eared pheasants.

Unfortunately for me one green Amazon parrot took a dislike to me, and one day when I was cleaning out its inside area it flew in from the outside and latched itself onto my nose, I had to wrestle it off without hurting it and it flew outside looking like a green and red Amazon. I had that scar on my nose for about twenty years after.

When I went to feed the king penguins I would give a high pitch whistle and they responded with their unusual call and make their way to the gate. On the way to the penguins I had to pass the Californian seal pond and old Sammy the big male would always dash over to the fence as I passed, he knew I carried a bucket full of fish. One day he decided to crash his way over the fence and dash towards me, I threw him a fish and ran as fast as I could away to the penguins, he was back in his enclosure by the time I returned, but ever since then I would run like blazes when passing the seal pond.

On my day off I would get books about birds from the library and not only fascinated by their life in the wild, I was excited by their various shapes and colours. I also started to desire seeing the exotic birds in their own environment and thought about joining the British Merchant Navy. I applied to join the merchant navy, and when my acceptance came through I gave in my notice, sometime in April 1956.

After four years in the merchant navy I was called up to for National Service in the British Army, when demobbed I got married and worked in various employments till becoming a bus driver. I visited the zoo a couple of times before deciding we would emigrate to Australia.

In May 1966 I visited the zoo for the final time, a week before sailing to Australia, never to return for 37 years. I was lingering in the new tropical house, daydreaming about all the things I could do in that place, when a moments later a chap I recognised from the past greeted me, it was Bill Timmis and he tells me that he is the Zoos Curator and moments later offered me the job as keeper of the tropical house. I nearly burst into to tears knowing it was impossible for me to accept because all our belongings were already on their way to Australia. I returned back to England, January 2003 and visit the Zoo each year, and each visit I see something new and exciting.

Read more from Tanny here.

See more: Birds, Mammals, Staff