“Zookeeping for Dummies,” by Sarah Totton

Jun 29th, 2022 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

How do you zoo?

It’s easy.

Just follow these simple steps:

Step 1. Are you in a zoo? You need to be in a zoo. Do not under any circumstances attempt to zookeep at the YMCA or a Chuck E. Cheese, even if they seem to have the necessary fauna and facilities. If you do, you may be required to have an embarrassing conversation with members of our law enforcement community while small children point and laugh at you.

Step 2. Given the things that you will be doing in this zoo, you will probably want to own the zoo, to avoid prosecution. So, either buy a zoo or steal one when the owners aren’t looking. (This is not as easy as it sounds.) I am not in any way suggesting you kidnap the owners and keep them in a small enclosed space so they can’t stop you. For legal reasons, I must stress that I am not suggesting that you do that. I am just writing it here for posterity.

Step 3. You will need cages. Many cages. Preferably escape-proof ones, although this is not essential if you like to live dangerously. If you do like to live dangerously, I suggest that you purchase a high-powered tranquilizer gun, Tasers and pepper spray.

Step 4. In the present political climate, it is preferable to refer to cages as “enclosures” or “habitats”. Behaviorists recommend adding environmental enrichment to cages for a salutary effect. Enrichment can include several large sticks or an interesting rock. Consider adding big inflatable rubber balls for them to gnaw on. You know–the kind that people with back pain sit on, to help with their back pain. This sort of thing will give your zoo good P.R.

Step 5. Perhaps you have the feeling at this point that something is still missing from your zoo. You are correct. That something is zookeepers. You will need zookeepers. Hoarder numbers of zookeepers. You need to make sure to procure the right sort of zookeeper, so when you are interviewing them make sure to ask them a lot of questions, such as “Do you mind working long hours away from home in small enclosed spaces for little to no pay?” or “Do you have the kind of family who would miss you if you were disappear for a few months or permanently?”

Step 6. Put the zookeepers inside the cages. And (this is very important) lock the cages.

Step 7. Decide if you are going to open your zoo to the public, or if you want to keep those zookeepers all to yourself in your private collection. This is a valid choice and not weird at all. (I have affidavits from no fewer than three formerly-practicing psychiatrists attesting to that fact.)

Step 8. If you do choose to open your zoo to the public, you will need to advertise. One economical way to do this is to let one of your zookeepers escape. Preferably an eye-catching zookeeper that people will notice. Like one with purple and white hair, nipple rings and an AC/DC tattoo. I’m not thinking of anyone in particular, you understand. I am just spit-balling here, so put that lawyer away, Johnson, you little weasel.

Before you release your zookeeper, be sure to write your zoo’s details in permanent marker all over the zookeeper’s body, so people will know where it came from. This is called humor and is perfectly legal in most US states (I’ve checked) and in 60% of all Canadian provinces. And in the province of Newfoundland, humour is even mandatory.

Step 9. If you want to save money and bring in more patrons, consider stripping your zookeepers. Paint the words “Nude Zoo!” in big letters over the entrance to your zoo. A word of caution, though: Depending on the zoning laws where you live, an all-nude zoo may incur fines, but you may be able to get away with having a nude-only (18+) section in your zoo instead.

Step 10. Deter your zookeepers from trying to escape by providing them with some form of income. Minimum wage for zookeepers averages out to approximately 30 cheese doodles per hour, which is quite generous given that you are also providing them with housing and utilities and rubber balls for them to sit on. You might want to sell individual paper bags full of cheese doodles to members of the public so that they can throw them at the zookeepers while they’re perched on their exercise balls, to try and make them do something interesting. Visitors like to feel like they are participating in the zoo experience. Remember, as long as you keep them in separate cages, it will be impossible for your zookeepers to go on strike.

And, just to keep my lawyers happy, I will point out here that all of the above is information, not advice.


Sarah Totton has won first place in The New Yorker Caption Contest (#787). Her humor has appeared at McSweeney’s, Points in Case, Slackjaw, The Belladonna, and Defenestration. She has twice received an Honorable Mention in the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest and a Dishonorable Mention in the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest.


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