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Zookeeper must be on most children’s dream job list. Whether you are that child or an adult who never fulfilled the dream of working with some of the world’s most extraordinary animals, now you can! ZSL London Zoo offers a wild day out, where you can get a unique insight into being a zookeeper by going behind the scenes, and becoming one yourself. Although, unlike you probably imagined as a child, it doesn’t involve playing with animals all day so be prepared to get your hands dirty.
My day began at 8.45am when me and my fellow zookeepers-for-the-day were met by specialist zookeeper Mick Tiley. Having worked at the zoo for 32 years he was extremely knowledgeable and very informative throughout the day.
You get involved in a wide range of essential duties from cleaning to feeding… it is quite likely you will shovel some poo! Our morning consisted of cleaning; first mucking out the warthogs’ enclosure, although we never got to meet them as they are category one animals, which means they are as dangerous as tigers. This was followed by the not quite so dangerous penguin pool where we met my favourite animal of the day, Ricky. He was hilarious and more than a little bit in love with Mick as he waddled and flapped straight for him as we entered and continued to follow him round as we cleaned, even swimming across the pool to follow him as we left.
After a morning of hard work we stopped for lunch, although I’m not sure any of us really wanted to waste time eating as we were having so much fun! After we had filled our own stomachs it was feeding time for the animals, including; llamas, alpacas, ring-tailed coatis and giraffes, whose long black tongues’ curling out round the carrots was the source of much amusement. The aardvarks were treated to a nose clean after their meal, although this was through the bars of their cage as they are also category one animals. Then Mick presented us with a bag of wriggling insects to feed the meerkats, after much squealing (by us!) and most of them ending up on the floor, we watched Mick feed them instead.
A real highlight and perfect end to our day was entering the red-tailed lemurs enclosure – they were incredibly cute and very cheeky. I would have loved to take one home and did contemplate for a minute if I could have snuck one out without Mick seeing.
About seven hours after we began, the day, unfortunately, had to come to an end, at which point I began to wonder if it is too late for a career change. However, we had unforgettable memories to take away with us and there was also the opportunity to stay in the zoo after and take a look around the animals we missed, so we were able to prolong the experience for a little bit longer. The only thing the day missed for me was a bit of danger… for some reason they don’t let you in with the lions!
Being a zookeeper for the day is an amazing, once-in-a lifetime experience for any animal lover, but there is no need to just take my word for it, try it for yourself. With only five people in your group it is an intimate, hands-on experience where you can get up close and personal with some of the zoo’s most popular animals.
Participants need to be over 16 years old to take part in Keeper for a Day , which costs £280. Or take part in a compact version of the day with An Introduction to Zoo Keeping for £180. A Junior version is on offer for 11-15 year olds at a cost of £170 (see what our guest blogger had to say about this experience). Full day sessions run on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while the compact version runs every Wednesday all year round. Several other experiences are also on offer at the zoo
Ellie was a guest of ZSL London Zoo