The man behind the scenes at the Milwauke Co. Zoo

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by Nate Kuester

MILWAUKEE -- Daron Graves has worked for decades behind the scenes, making sure we are all able to enjoy the full Milwaukee County Zoo experience.

Graves has a fancy title. He is the Animal division coordinator at the zoo. But what that really means is that he has the keys to everything you can imagine, to the most amazing office environment possible.

When you visit the zoo, Graves is likely not the attraction you came to see. He considers himselt to be a behind the scenes kind of guy. You can't really pigeon-hole him into just one thing, when it comes to what it is exactly that he does for the zoo.

"He's pretty much got -- probably -- the broadest job description of anyone here at the zoo," confessed Milwaukee County Zoo curator of primates and small mammals Jan Rafert.

"Daron is a fellow who wears many hats," explained Milwaukee County Zoo head veterinarian Dr. Roberta Wallace.

"I'm like a jack of all trades," admitted Graves."A lot of the stuff that nobody wants to do, falls in my lap."

"Many of the things that he does, there's no one else that can, or would, do -- or would know how to do," said Milwaukee County Zoo veterinarian technician Margaret Michaels.

"I'm like a catch-all for the stuff that falls through the cracks," said Graves. "I call myself the 'Radar O'Reilly' of the zoo. You have to be a certain age to remember that, but yeah. And that's kinda' truly how I feel."

Just like the character from the old sit-com "M*A*S*H*," Graves always has a lot on his plate. And it has to get done, so that visitors of all ages can enjoy the sights and sounds offered. Even if they don't know all that goes into making that happen.

"It's everything behind the scenes," said Rafert. "It all adds up to trying to provide the best experience. Not only for our visitors, but for our animals as well."

When we caught up with Graves, he was collecting water samples from the various animal environments to test the quality of the water. He does this to ensure the animals are well taken care of. It's a fairly safe task. However, as you have already learned, Graves does a lot of things. Including helping the veterinarian staff to secure the animals when they are seen for treatment. That is something that doesn't always go exactly as planned.

"They will always get the best of you," warned Graves. "They're always faster. They're always just a little bit quicker. You know? You get humbled."

Over the years, the way animals are handled has changed to be more of a hands off process. However that's not always possible, as Daron is only too quick to point out the close calls he's expereienced over the years.

"As you know bears are really smart," Graves cautioned. "For an animal, they have a really decent I.Q. And there's nothing I can make a bear do."

While that may be the case. Despite the close shaves that he and his fellow staffers have come out of unscathed, Graves takes a great deal of pride in the fact that things always seem to work out well for him -- as well as the animals. And his co-workers have a pretty good idea as to why.

"He has a true animal's sense, a sense of animals," said Wallace.

"He's just really good-natured," said Michaels. "I think he understands the animals and their personalities."

 And after he solves one problem, it is on to the next. Maybe it's scheduling the zoo keepers, or heading to the airport to pick up a new animal. No matter what the task may be, we get to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Whether we see him or not. Daron Graves is making Milwaukee great.

 

***The video clip from the TV series appears courtesy of FOX Home Entertainment.

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