Zoo Keeper for a Day

It was my daughter’s birthday coming up and I wanted to really treat her. I knew she was a big animal lover and wanted to study zoology and become a zookeeper. She had always mentioned wanting to do an animal experience and when I looked on the Isle of Wight Zoo website I was so excited to find they offered a Junior Keeper Experience lasting 3 hours. 

What I didn’t expect was how personal the experience would be. I had mentioned that my daughter was particularly interested in reptiles during the exchange of emails with the zoo and they said they would talk to the zookeeper to tailor the experience to her tastes. 

I was made up and we went on the experience on a gorgeous autumn Sunday in October. The day started with a welcome, followed by a brief safety check. Our guide quickly got my daughter introduced to the various roles of a zoo keeper and our tour started with a trip to where they prepare all the animal food - lots of vegetables and live food, like locusts, for the reptiles.

We started with feeding the meerkats live mealworms! My daughter was happy to be a buffet table for the cheeky little meerkats while they jumped on her and searched out for the little wriggling treats. We then got to learn about their enrichment and put mealworms inside three little enrichment boxes, which gave the meerkats a challenge to search for the food. The enrichments are not just put on for the experiences. They are part of daily life for the animals at the zoo and help ensure they remain happy and healthy.

She cleaned poo out of the mongoose lemur home next. We discovered the male was called McLovin and had travelled with a sailor on the seven seas before being rescued and donated to the zoo. As I entered the enclosure my daughter found it very amusing that one of the pair almost urinated on me! The lemur made up for it by having the most sincere and cute face, bright eyes and sweet little fingers. It watched my daughter clean the enclosure. 

My daughter got to see plenty of behind the scenes areas and glimpse in at other primates that you just cannot get close to, however some are just too dangerous to be in the same enclosure with - even the keepers don’t go in with some of the animals like spider monkeys because they are very strong and can attack if they feel threatened. One of the best parts of the experience was seeing my daughter hand-feed brown lemurs fresh blueberries while I took some fantastic photos unhindered by the enclosure cages that usually spoil most of my shots at the zoo.

It was only when my daughter mentioned her desire to get a rabbit that the keeper spontaneously said she could help out at the petting area. My daughter was spoiled with brushing the malting hair of a giant rabbit, got to peek in at sleeping hedgehogs and - to her and my great surprise - even oiled the shells of two tortoises.

In the education centre she checked the temperatures of the geckos, stroking a crested gecko, felt a python’s skin, heard a hissing cockroach hiss, learned about frogs being an early warning for our changing environment, and best of all, experienced a giant insect walk across her hand.

Her last duty as junior keeper, was to sweep up the never-ending wallaby droppings and then she feed the nervous creatures willow branches that she had cut earlier. 

As I watched my daughter smiling in the sun as she fed the wallabies I knew this was an unforgettable experience, and one that might even positively influence her choice of working with animals in her future career. She came out of the experience beaming! 

The experience included a goodie bag of IOW merch, plus free entry to the zoo for the rest of the day. I can whole heartedly recommend an animal experience if you are a local or a tourist. 

The zoo offer a whole range of experiences including working with the big cats to animal photography. Visit the Isle of Wight Zoo (www.isleofwightzoo.com/animal-experiences) website to book yourself an experience of a lifetime.

Philip Bell Author Photo by Chris Cowley

14 October 2018

By Philip Bell in The locals' blogs

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