On the 19th November, 2017, I was lucky enough to have the wonderful experience of being a Zookeeper for the day at Blackpool Zoo alongside my beautiful cousin, Savannah. I would firstly like to point out that the experience was the most enjoyable, informative and well organised experience I have endured. And one I’d, wholeheartedly, recommend to everybody! Additionally, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Blackpool Zoo and their incredible Zookeepers for making the day one I’ll never forget. And, of course, the animals for making my day unforgettable and a day I’ll forever treasure close to my heart.
I received this opportunity as a Christmas present in 2016 and had eagerly waited all year for the day to arrive. I had wanted to do this for a very long time, but the waiting lists had always been lengthy, so you can imagine how excited I would’ve been. I was counting down the months, the weeks, the days and then I was soon to be counting down the hours and then the minutes.
The day approached. I had my alarm set for 6am – hours before we were expected to arrive to the Zoo – and I quickly got dressed into my zoo gear. Work boots, waterproof pants, a water proof coat and lots of warm thermals to wear underneath. I could barely sit still. We drove the 45 minute journey to the Zoo (Me, my mum, my auntie and my cousin) and sat excitedly waiting for the time to come around.
We then headed into the Zoo’s reception area where we were greeted by a lovely receptionist who handed us high visibility jackets to wear, stating ‘Zookeeper for a day’ on the back. Admittedly, I felt very special whilst wearing the jacket and I couldn’t wait to get started with, what was set to be, the best day of my life. We sat in the reception area for a short duration of time, awaiting our next step on our big day!
Lauren the Zookeeper turned up and politely introduced herself and we were taken along to the old Elephant enclosure. Blackpool Zoo have recently developed a new project, named ‘Project Elephant’ which is the new enclosure for Kate and her new Elephant friends. So before heading over to that, we were taken to her previous enclosure to be given some (very interesting) information about the Zoo’s history, which included the history of the Elephant enclosure. And Kate! It’s safe to say, Kate has been through one heck of a journey and she certainly is a credit to Lauren and the rest of the Zookeepers. It’s very heartwarming to hear how Zoos have improved in today’s modern day society, where we have a better understanding and knowledge of Zoos and the requirements of different animal species. This became evidently clear to us when we were taken around Kate’s new house! (Project Elephant)
The new house was INCREDIBLE! And it appeared to be much better suited to cater for Kate and her needs. I was lucky enough to have a VIP tour of it. It’s much larger and more natural looking. There are a range of fixtures and fittings suited to Elephant life. Including tree trunks that can get moved around the enclosure, to represent an Elephant’s natural environment and to act as enrichment. There is now a swimming pool in the outdoor area for Kate to enter, as and when wanted, and there were hay nets suspended into the air that were put onto a timer. Ready to be suspended down to the Elephants during random times throughout the day and night. Again, this highlights the improvements in enrichment and knowledge from Zoo staff.
Project Elephant ‘Base Camp’ is now open to the public at Blackpool Zoo, with an incredible enclosure and 3 gorgeous Elephants to visit.
It’s a vital requirement of Zoos to provide enrichment for the animals, in order to prevent them from boredom and stress. It’s also part of The Five Freedoms. (Animal Welfare Act, 2006). Also, enrichment serves a purpose of keeping the animals physically and mentally stimulated. A requirement in which Blackpool Zoo carry out exceedingly well.
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from fear and distress
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom to exhibit natural behaviours
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
We then had the chance to feed a variety of different, gorgeous, animals. Some of which included: The Giraffes, Penguins, Anteaters, Pelicans, Lemurs and Tortoises. We also had the chance to meet the Tapirs (Who I immediately fell in love with) and the Aardvarks.
After we had our VIP tour of Kate’s new enclosure, we were then greeted by another Zookeeper who took us to carry out some more of our daily tasks. We headed to the Tortoise enclosure and were, happily, faced with Giant Tortoises. Including Darwin – The Zoo’s oldest resident. We were given a selection of Vegetables to feed to Tortoises, it was very fun watching them chomp away. Though, we had to be very careful to mind we didn’t get stood on. The Tortoises were friendly, but giant. Friendly giants. Plus, we didn’t want any broken feet…
Feeding the Penguins involved filling their fish with essential vitamins and mineral tablets. We had to hold open the Fish’s fin and then place the two tablets inside. We then headed out to the Penguin pool and went on to feed the Fish, which the Penguins were clearly very excited for as they gathered around the front of the pool. We then listened to the Penguin talk which was informative and presented very well. A task I found, near, impossible was being unable to stroke one of the Penguins (due to the zoo choosing to NOT having him having any human contact). The zookeeper explained how this particular Penguin was the only one to have not been touched by Humans, even the keepers, as they wanted him to be a more ‘natural’ Penguin. Which is fantastic (not very easily done though, he was adorable!)
I’m very eager to talk about the highlight of my day (though, it was all fantastic) I absolutely adored meeting the Tapirs. I’ve always had an interest in them, but I can happily say that my love for them has increased. Spending time with the Tapirs was incredible and it has, in fact, inspired me to work with them in my future animal care career. There are two Tapirs at Blackpool Zoo, one was more friendly and the other was quite timid and wary. I got to spend lots of time tickling and cuddling the Tapir (we even had some kisses) and he was slowly closing his eyes as we continued to tickle him in his favourite spot. This experience allowed me to engage with Tapirs for the first time, and also enabled me to see what magnificent mammals they are.
Another highlight of my day…(Okay, they’re all highlights) was feeding the Giraffes. Giraffes are my favourite animal, including Goats of course, so having the opportunity to get so close to them (for the second time) was definitely an experience to remember. Not many people can say they’ve been face to face with the World’s tallest Mammal! We fed the Giraffes with Acacia leaves, which are similar to their natural diet, and they highly enjoyed them. I loved seeing their large tongues sticking out ready to grab the leaves. I also loved how friendly and gentle they were, considering their size. Giraffes have charming personalities and never fail to amaze me with how majestic they are.
Now, lets talk about the Lemurs. My goodness, what a life-changing opportunity! I wanted to take my Lemur friend home, he wouldn’t leave my shoulder and I felt very accepted within the ‘Lemur community’ I had just headed into. We headed into the Lemur enclosure after being welcomed by the Zookeeper and were given some information about them. Stepping into the enclosure was an experience in itself, I suddenly felt a little weight on my shoulder and was faced to see a gorgeous Lemur waiting for his grapes right beside my head. It was epic! We were handed grapes and the Lemurs were quick, and eager, to approach us for their snack. It was adorable seeing them taking hold of the grapes and taking bites out of them *insert Lemur chewing noise here*
The Lemurs concluded the day, and what a day it was! We then headed back to the Reception area to hand in our jackets and to receive a goody bag, containing a range of small gifts and our very own completion certificate.
This was an experience I’ll never forget, certainly something I aim to take part in again. It has provided me with a real glimpse into Zoo life and what is typically involved in a Zookeepers’ day – essential as I strive for a career within the animal care industry.
Lots of love,