A Keeper's Tale, Part 2 of 5: Iguana-Infested Woods

Wayne T. Allison

by guest writer Hodari Nundu

Being rejected as a shark keeper meant that I had to find another job. That’s when I got the cartoonist job at the local newspaper. I actually had applied to be an article writer, but the director told me that they didn´t need any at the moment-- they were instead looking for a political cartoonist.

Now, I hate politics. I don´t even believe in democracy. This doesn´t mean I don´t like the concept- I just think true democracy can never be achieved. When I was in highschool, I wrote an essay on that. I think it was called The Evolutionary Reasons for Democracy Being a Utopia, or something like that.  My teachers hated it. They also hated me for a while.

But I really needed a job, and I could draw, so I thought, “what the heck? Let’s give it a shot”.

I took the job, and the cartoons, as ugly as they were, became an instant hit. Even the local politicians being spoofed asked me for the originals to frame them on their office walls! My boss was so happy with my work that he gave me a raise in my second week.

At about the same time, I was trying to figure out what career to study. A friend of mine suggested that I studied the same as him; graphic design. After all, it would be easy for me, seeing as I could draw very well already.

I wasn´t so sure about this, because I knew graphic design involved more technical drawing (which I always sucked at). However, I had no idea what other thing to study. Zoology and paleontology don´t exist as careers around here. So I eventually agreed to travel to my friend’s hometown and become his roommate.

His hometown was the city of Colima, near the coast of the Pacific. Foreigners perhaps know about Colima because it’s near Manzanillo, a popular tourist destination which claims to be “the sailfish capital of the world” (although I’m told certain American cities make the same claim).

Anyways, I had always lived in relatively colder places, so living in Colima was a complete change for me. The heat was almost unbearable; so much in fact that we barely went out of the house during daytime. The good news was that, being a tropical place, Colima was much richer when it came to creepy crawlies of all kinds. My friend wasn´t very happy about it. One day, we found a Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula near the garbage bins outside the house. My friend couldn´t believe it when I picked the hand-sized spider up and allowed it to crawl over my shoulders and neck. “It’s really not that dangerous,” I said. “Its venom is weak. The worst thing it could do would be to send its saetae  into your eyes. That would be nasty but, it won´t do it unless it feels threatened”.

Hodari Nundu

That wasn´t very comforting to him. He was relieved when I released the tarantula in the iguana-infested woods near the house.

Seeing as my friend was scared of a relatively harmless tarantula often kept as a pet by small children, it may seem ironic that he was madly in love with crocodiles. In fact, it was he who invited me to try my luck as a zookeeper once again, when he found out that a local park kept American crocodiles (the largest species in the country, reaching up to six meters long, sometimes more).

“We could both apply for a job there,” he said. “It’s not very far away”.

Of course, I loved the idea.

The park was not very large. In fact, there were very few animals in the zoo -- a couple male lions in a cage, a jaguarundi with a broken-tail, some spider monkeys, and tons of rabbits. As I would later find out, the rabbits weren´t really meant to be an exhibit. They were bred as reptile fodder.

My friend and I immediately went to the reptile house. There were two crocodiles in an enclosure, both were about three meters long. Small for an American crocodile, but big enough to overpower a man.

There were almost no visitors in the park, and it wasn´t hard to find the chief zookeeper- who was also the chief vet and resident biologist. He had worked once in the same zoo where I had tried to become a shark keeper, and after moving to Colima, he had founded his own reptile house. Reptiles, he told us, where his passion.

“So, are you guys studying Biology?” he asked.

“No,” we said nervously. We immediately assumed he only took Biology students as assistants.

However, he didn´t seem disappointed. “It’s OK. My only assistant right now is actually a computer programmer,” he said, referring to a guy we had seen offering advice to a ball python owner whose pet wouldn´t touch its food.

Salvador (that was his name) told us that he couldn´t pay us a lot, but that he would be happy to accept us as assistant zookeepers.

“There’s one thing, though,” he warned. “Lions are off limits for beginners. So are hot herps (very venomous snakes).”

“What about crocodiles?” I asked.

Surprisingly, he said crocodiles were fine, as long as he was there to guide our every step. And that’s how my brief career as an assistant zookeeper began.



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