Zookeeper for a Day (2019).

Animals, Keeper for a day, Work experience/volunteering

Mum and I arrived promptly at Blackpool Zoo at 9am, following a smooth 45-minute drive, in preparation to be a Zookeeper for a Day.

Much to my delight, we were the first on the car park (aside from the keepers!) and we excitedly cooed over baby rabbits hopping around the vacant area. 

I had previously carried out a Zookeeper experience in November, 2017. I had the most incredible time and enjoyed expanding on my knowledge surrounding a collection of animal species. So when Christmas 2018 arrived, I kindly asked Santa for the same opportunity.

Beginning the day at 9:30, we were greeted in the reception area with 2 keepers. Willeminj and Amy. Willeminj had been working as a zookeeper for years, and previously worked in Antwerp Zoo (Belgium) and the other was a trainee keeper, named Amy.

My first task of the day involved working with the Camels, who had been relocated to the ex-elephant enclosure shortly after the building of Project Elephant. We headed eagerly into the enclosure, armed with a large purple wheelbarrow and a series of tools, in preparation of spot-cleaning out the enclosure. This simply involves the removal of faeces, as opposed to the full removal of substrate. 

MAMMALS

A warm-blooded vertebrate distinguished by the possession of fur, and Females that secrete milk as nourishment for the young.

I then fed the Camels, who soon appeared to the front of the outdoor paddock after hearing the shaking of the carrot filled bucket. They were highly inquisitive animals. We had to be wary of the possibility of being spat on, especially since Camels spit stomach acid, rather than just saliva.

Following my experience with the Camels, we headed over to the Giraffe and Tapir enclosures (Yay!) ready to feed them their morning snack and to issue them with lots of cuddles!

We firstly stopped at Giraffe Heights – Home to the four stunning Giraffes at the Zoo. With a wonderfully built suspended viewing area, allowing visitors to closely see the animals in both their indoor and outdoor spaces.

The Giraffes at Blackpool Zoo are all Female. They are very unique individuals, since they are hybrid (they have been interbred between species) meaning they aren’t allowed to reproduce. All the same, they were curious, friendly and (obviously) my favourite African mammal – So cute! Additionally, they evidently have a black tongue (as pictured above), as this helps to protect them from sunburn.

The Giraffes were given carrots. However, their diet also consists of browse (naturally, they feed on acacia leaves), hey and pellets. Alongside other vegetables, such as cabbage.

We then wandered to the Tapir enclosure, home to two beautiful Brazilian tapirs: G’kar and Pocahontas. This being, the third time I’ve worked with both individuals! Interestingly, Pocohontas has managed to retain spots from birth, which usually fade with age. And she is significantly more wary in comparison to G’kar, who has the personality of a playful labrador.

We fed both G’kar and Pocahontas a collection of carrots, gave them lots of cuddles and tummy rubs before proceeding to our next location.

The Aardvarks were next. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these fascinating mammals. They were clearly highly inquisitive and curious, aswell as being playful and mischievous. 

Upon entering the enclosure, the individuals were playful and clearly aware that it was meal time. One excitedly ran out of the enclosure and was soon caught by Amy – whilst the other climbed all over me (much to my delight) as they sought mealworms and sniffed me with their extended, adorable snouts. 

They were fed mealworms. I issued this with both hand feeding and scatter feeding methods, to encourage natural foraging behaviours, alongside increasing both physical and mental stimulation, and wellbeing.

The Anteaters were next. Again, both the male and female were fed mealworms. I cupped then through my hands to allow the animals to use their long, sticky tongue to reach for them. This encourages natural behaviours, and prevents boredom.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go into the anteaters enclosure. The reason being, because of the sharp claws, not necessarily due to aggression. The claws are extremely sharp and could easily tare through human skin.

REPTILES

Reptiles are distinguished by having dry scaly skin and because they lay soft-shelled eggs on the land.

After taking a quick break, we were ready to meet our next keeper (Angela), by the Tortoise house. Angela guided us into the enclosure, in preparation of feeding the Zoo’s oldest resident, Darwin, aged a respectable 101! Darwin’s breed have a life expectancy of 200 years. And he’s been living at the Zoo since it’s opening in the 1900’s. 

We fed Darwin a handful of carrots. He was on a higher diet in comparison to the other individuals due to illness, and it was vital to ensure his health didn’t rapidly deteriorate. He confidently crunched them and then went on to having lovely neck rubs.

MARINE MAMMALS

We then walked to the Otter enclosure, which housed both a Male and Female. Otters are carnivorous and have cat-like teeth, therefore, their diet consists of mainly meat.

Both individuals were fed separately to ensure they had full access to their food. And they had to wait quietly and patiently before the food was thrown in. I chose to feed fish, which the otters soon excitedly delved in to.

BIRDS

A warm-blooded, egg laying vertebrate, distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings and a beak.

After our experience with the Tortoises, we headed over to the penguin kitchen. Angela briefed us on the penguins names and gave detailed information into how she can confidently distinguish them. Flipper tags are fitted onto the wings of the individuals, but can easily fall off or start to fade away due to the chlorine filled water.

Some of the penguins were located from other countries, so have coloured flipper tags. The penguins from Germany have red, and those from Italy have black.

We then walked to penguin beach to feed the penguins and to listen carefully to the given talk. Fish (some loaded with essential vitamins and minerals) were carefully thrown in as we had to simultaneously watch for sneaky seagulls in the process. Angela proceeded to carry out a “kan-kan like manoeuvre to kindly gesture the seagulls out of the way. 

We then fed the Pelicans, wandering from penguin island, past the red pandas, to the pelican enclosure. We threw in fish as the animals elegantly caught them with their widely expanded mouths, some helped to feed the babies as they hadn’t quite mastered the art of fencing for themselves sufficiently yet.

ELEPHANTS

Of course, Elephants are mammals and one of the largest, but the Elephant section is separate from mammals in Blackpool Zoo as they are classified as a priority 1 animal.

For the Elephant section of the experience, I had the pleasure of working alongside Zookeeper, Lauren, for the second time. Lauren worked with my cousin and I during our first Zookeeper experience in 2017, and she works primarily with the Elephants and big cats.

We headed to Project Elephant – An incredible project development at Blackpool Zoo, which provides the 5 resident elephants with a new state of the art enclosure, consisting of a large indoor and outdoor area. Project Elephant better suits the animals needs, and helps to encourage natural behaviours whilst working to prevent stress and discomfort.

Kate (The oldest in the herd), has temporarily been separated from the other elephants. This is due to her and Tara initially struggling to get along. So, the individuals have been kept within close proximity of each other to (hopefully) encourage them to become friends. Kate is due to return back with the others shortly.

Lauren kindly showed us around the enclosure, which included viewing behind the scenes and gaining a glimpse into the hefty moving crate, which was used to relocate the 4 newest herd members.

The indoor enclosure has a vast collection of fixtures and fittings – including: Suspended hay nets, which randomly drop at different times throughout the day, feeding boxes, 6-feet of sand, tree trunks for scratching (which can easily be moved around with the assistance of a small vehicle).

After touring base camp, we headed back outside ready to feed the Elephants. Blackpool Zoo offer their elephants a variety of food and important supplements to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. To which also includes daily heath checks, weigh-ins and behavioural observations.

Health checks are important in all animal species. Especially in Elephants, as every individual carries a strain of the EEHV virus, which can be fatal if left undetected/untreated for increased periods. The keepers are currently monitoring one of the youngest elephants daily, and to allow them to habituate to treatment methods if they should ever be required.

Further information on the lethal EEHV virus can be sought here:

PRIMATES

Flexible hands and feet with opposable first digits good eyesight and a highly developed brain.

My final animal encounter of the day involved working closely with some of the Zoo’s resident primates – Ring-tailed lemurs and spider monkeys.

We met keeper, Joe, by the lemur enclosure before venturing in armed with a bucket filled with a variety of different fruits and veggies.

Soon, we were armed with lemurs and feeling highly content as we observed them munching elegantly on grapes, apples and more.

We then headed to the spider monkeys, again, armed with a large box of fruits and vegetables. Including: cabbage, peppers, cucumber and apple. The monkeys were housed with capybaras and ducks, who were also simultaneously fed too!

With that being the end of yet another incredible, and highly memorable Zookeeper experience.

I would like to take the time to wholeheartedly thank the keepers and animals at Blackpool Zoo for making the day so special, and for inspiring me greatly with such amazing animal care and conservation efforts.

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