Jumbo prize pack for Riley
Riley Chick with Kashin the elephant during his visit to the Auckland Zoo. Photo supplied.
By Cathy Asplin
Ten-year-old Riley Chick of Korakonui has always been pretty keen on the idea of opening his own zoo one day, with elephants being top of his ‘wish-list’ So winning an Animal Planet competition to be a zookeeper’s assistant at the Auckland Zoo was right up his alley.
He not only got to visit the zoo for the day with his family, but he also helped care for the zoo’s two popular Asian elephants, Kashin and Burma.
Kashin was born in Thailand in 1968 and came to the Auckland Zoo in 1972, while Burma was born in 1982 in a Burmese logging camp and came to the zoo in 1989. They weigh around 3400kg and 2750kg respectively.
Although Riley only weighs around 40kg, he wasn’t intimidated by the elephants.
“There were a lot bigger than I thought they would be, but that didn’t worry me because they are quite gentle and move slowly. They have really wrinkly skin and really strong hair which is like sharp nylon and can actually cut you.”
Riley and his mother Joanne helped give Kashin her daily scrub down and fed her some fruit and vegetables.
The elephants are given around 80 to 120kg of food every day - which includes hay, bamboo, fruit and vegetables. This of course means they each produce 60-70kg of ‘poo’ everyday - which goes to an onsite recycling station where it is turned into compost known as ‘Zoodoo’.
Riley won the Animal Planet competition after his Speld tutor Lyn McTamney of Te Kawa spotted it advertised in a Sunday newspaper. She knew Riley was keen on the idea of working in a zoo, so encouraged him to write a letter to enter.
“We made it part of his lesson so he had to think about why he wanted to be a zookeeper and write a good letter to convince the judges.”
In the letter Riley received from Animal Planet communications co-ordinator Kris Haigh, it explained that his entry was chosen as it was so well written and included perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation.
As well as Auckland Zoo ‘Zoom’ backstage passes for himself and his mother, Riley picked up plenty of goodies from Animal Planet, including a T-shirt, backpack, book, crayons, animal cards and binoculars. Riley also got to see some of his other favourite animals during his visit to the Auckland Zoo, including the playful orangutans and spider monkeys.