'While You Were Sleeping': The San Antonio Zoo is a whole different animal for overnight guard

James Vargas often is only human on the zoo grounds

By Katrina Webber - Crime Fighters Reporter, Tim Stewart - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO, TX - While he could talk to the animals all he wants, James Vargas spends most nights just walking among them.

As an overnight security guard for the San Antonio Zoo, he regularly patrols the grounds, making sure nothing and no one is out of place.

“I'm paying attention to the animals, making sure that they don't look like they're in distress,” he said. 

During most of his shift, he’s often the only human there.

While the idea of being alone with wild animals might make others shudder, Vargas says it doesn’t bother him much at all.

“You get used to the sounds that you haven't heard before. You get used to the animals watching you as you walk by,” he said. “(But) I do miss that a little bit about the day shift, seeing everybody walking around and just having a good time.”

On this shift, he said, he gets to see the animals in a different light.

Vargas said in the nighttime darkness, the big cats, such as the lions and tigers, often are more active and playful.

He also sees snakes move around more in their enclosures.

“I really love this job,” he said.

After eight years of working security in the daylight, he opted for a completely different schedule.

Vargas volunteered for the position, which he says also allows him a lot of time to think.

Although he does his best to keep intruders out, one manages to squeak through the cracks every now and then, he said.

“The skunks and the raccoons will definitely be running around,” Vargas said.

For him, the shift is more about walking –a lot.  

He said in a single night, he easily logs as many as 13 miles.

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