A lot of guests and volunteers ask me what my favorite animal at the Zoo is. Everyone seems confused when I tell them that it’s Luke, our resident Calamian deer. They either do not realize we have this species in our collection, or they have only taken the briefest glances at him and have not spent the time to appreciate his magnificence.
I’ll be honest, I’m a little obsessed with Luke. I have a picture of him as the background on my computer and the lock screen for my phone. I have more photos and videos of him on my phone than I do of my husband, dog and cat combined!
As the primary deer keeper, I have worked with Luke for nearly four and a half years. I’ve watched him grow from a chubby two-year-old, with tiny antlers, to a chubby six-year-old. He has a new set of antlers growing in right now, and they look like they’ll be his best set yet!
Over the years, I’ve worked hard on establishing a good relationship with him, and he has rewarded me with his trust. He is one of the few animals that I work with that I can physically interact with. A lot of our animals prefer not to be touched. We always respect our animals’ choices in these matters. Luke, however, loves neck scratches and neck rubs. A lot of the time, when I go out to clean his yard, he’ll be lying in a spot of sun and when I approach, he’ll turn his head showing me exactly where on his neck he would like me to rub. Other times, he’ll see me and come ambling over, waiting for me to give him the attention he wants. He will follow me around his yard, poke his head in my cleaning bucket, and get in my way as I maneuver around him.
Most mornings, I have to encourage Luke to leave his barn. He has a big fluffy hay bed this time of year, and like a human teenager, he can be impossible to get out of bed. I’ve tried begging, pleading and bribing—it is much more challenging than you would think.
I usually win this battle, but more times than I can count myself and many of my fellow keepers have lost the battle and given in. I end up walking into the stall with him, gently nudging him to get him up and after much coaxing he’ll finally oblige. When we train new keepers on this area, they can’t help but laugh at how difficult it is to make the 80-pound deer get out of his bed!
Sometimes when I put fresh hay or browse out for him on exhibit, he will ignore the food completely and choose me instead. Luke loves food, so when he chooses to hang out near me or beg for scratches instead of going to a preferred treat, I am reminded of why I am a zookeeper.
I do this job for the love of the animals. It can be a thankless job at times, but the wordless appreciation from the animals is worth a lot and helps to sustain and motivate us during difficult times. Luke is very good at giving me these reminders, and I hope that the next time you visit us, you can seek him out and spend a few minutes appreciating his awesomeness!
– Sarah Rade, Hoofstock Keeper II