Interview With a Newquay ZooKeeper
Working with animals sounds like the dream job and is a reality for some people who get to work on a daily basis with animals. For those of you who have ever wondered what it is like to work in a zoo, we managed to get the inside scoop.
Don’t be lulled into thinking this is an easy job where you get to cuddle cute and furry animals all day. Working in animal care is no walk in the park, the job takes years of education, training and hands-on experience, and most of all a real love for animals. Zookeepers work is physical and demanding, they work day in and day out regardless of the weather. Also, it carries a lot of responsibility as they have animals that are reliant on them for their health, safety and welfare. First and foremost, they need to keep the animals happy and healthy.
That being said for those working in this field, the pros well outweigh the cons.
Zoos are vital to the conservation of animals especially those that are endangered and at risk of extinction. They play the role of educator, operate breeding programmes for endangered species, the promotion of conservation and supporting wildlife research. They also hope to inspire visitors to learn more about nature and what role we play and how we can protect the environment for animals and humans. There are lots of ways we can get involved with small and often simple changes such as reducing our use of plastics.
Without zoos we would not get to see face-to-face many fascinating and rare animals. Modern zoos have evolved, and they work hard to carefully recreate natural and enriched habitats for the animals with challenging activities, such as hiding their food to reduce boredom and simulate their natural tendencies to find food.
Zoos are not-for-profit organisations and are reliant on visitors as a source of income for not only looking after and feeding the animals but also continuing with their conservation and education programmes. As Newquay Zoo has been closed not once, but twice in 2020 and now again in 2021 they are in vital need of funds and need your support more than ever. There are many ways you can support them including, donations, sponsorship and adopting an animal. Please visit https://www.newquayzoo.org.uk/support-us/our-animals-need-you to see how you can support the zoo and the great work it does, all monies received goes towards the care of the animals.
We recently spoke to Team Leader, Dave Rich, read on to find out if being a zookeeper is really a dream job, what Dave’s favourite animal is and lots more.
Is being a zookeeper really a dream job?
"Being fortunate enough to have a job that you are passionate about is a plus for anyone and being passionate about animals and being a zoo keeper is no exception. The role of a zoo keeper is very diverse with everyday being different, as animals are unpredictable!"
Do you do work that doesn’t involve working with animals?
"I think pretty much every aspect of my job, whether it be adjusting diets, fixing or enhancing enclosures, ordering food and equipment or talking to the public, involves animals in some respect. Sometimes this is to do with the animals you are currently stood in the enclosure feeding, other times generally about the animals at the park or sometimes, aspects of our work, which takes us further afield into areas such as Africa and Indonesia."
What type of animals do you work with?
"In my role as Team Leader, I work with everything from lions to lizards to lemurs. We have a around 1500 animals at the zoo, with a range of primates, carnivores, ungulates, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates."
What’s your favourite animal and why?
"In this job it is tough to have favourites, as each animal is fascinating in its own way and given the time to observe each individuals behaviour, each will have its own personality or behaviours. Sometimes at the park, we have to give animals a helping hand by stepping in and assisting with rearing when things don’t go quite to plan. I have been fortunate enough to do this on several occasions, most recently with our Owston’s civet kitten born back in May 2019. It’s hard to not have a favourite when you have something so small and fluffy in your care at times."
Can you tell us an interesting fact about Owston’s Civets?
"There are only around 20 Owston’s civets in captivity and Newquay Zoo holds the most of any of these with five. They are born with both stripes and spots and are nocturnal by nature. They eat bugs and worms and can climb vertically up trees, but also nest on the ground. This species comes from a range in Vietnam and is a protected species, classified as endangered."
What is the hardest part of your job?
"Fortunately in Cornwall we don’t get extreme weather, but a wet and cold day can still seem quite a task. Tough days are those, when things don’t go too well, despite all your efforts animals sadly move on. Also keeping a balance between what is best for the animals and visitor experience. Sometimes a good enclosure for an animal means that they can be a little tricky to spot if they chose not to be seen."
What is the best part of your job?
"The animals, for sure. I don’t think there has been a day when I didn’t wish I worked with animals, even in the tough times. They never fail to make you smile, even when you least expect it. The excitement of animal births, watching them grow up, even seeing them move on to other collections to breed elsewhere."
"The keeping team is also great. Watching their excitement in the challenges the animals present them, whether that be trying to get them to breed or outsmarting them with a piece of enrichment. The animals provide as much stimulation and enrichment for them at times as they do the animals."
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of your job?
"Keeping the balance! There are a lot of people and animals to please, so to do your best by all of them every day is a constant juggling act. The animals thrive off constant enrichment and stimulation, but then at times require some space. Keepers and staff are constantly striving to improve and gain further knowledge of all the animals in their care and are driving forward for new species or new ideas to achieve conservation goals. So keeping the resources available for this whilst being aware of the parks size, space and capacity is tricky. Finally, the visitors day out is crucial that they not just have a great day but take away some of the messages of our organisation and goals for conservation. This way they will tell their friends so we continue to get good visitor numbers which in turn allows us to keep spreading our message and benefit both the animals in our care and those in the wild."
Do you think that the animals like their keepers?
"Keepers and animals build up relationships, some similar to your cats and dogs at home where animals show affection towards individuals and sometimes it is hard to know who’s in charge! Some relationships are more fickle than this from the animal’s side, where the relationship is more with the bucket of food! Animals in zoos are wild animals, with innate behaviours, but they do get used to daily routines at the park."
Where do zoos get their animals from?
"Zoos are part of a Global affiliation, which ensures the movement of animals from zoo to zoo for the benefit of the species in captivity. This is usually based on the genetic information of the animals to ensure genetic diversity within captivity. It also ensures that there is no monetary value to this movement."
How many animals are in your zoo?
The purpose of zoo’s today is more towards conservation and education. What role do you play in this?
"The modern zoo has responsibilities educating the public of all ages of the plight of the species that share our world, but also the conservation efforts that are in place and can be supported to combat these pressures. Zoos have a further vital role for entertainment, through which informal education can then also be achieved."
If you weren’t doing what you do now what else would you love to do?
"To be honest, I am not quite sure, it's been that long! But I think it would always have been something to do with animals or sport."
Do you have any advice for future zookeepers?
"It's not for the faint hearted! Most keepers these days have a degree or animal qualification and some aspect of practical experience. A good balance of both coupled with a passion to work hard and learn would put you in good stead for being a zoo keeper. Also, you must not mind living in wellies every day!"
Thank you so much Dave foer taking the tme to chat with us, we really enjoyed it and learned so much. Thanks again and we hope to visit soon.
For more information on how to support Newquay Zoo please click here https://www.newquayzoo.org.uk/support-us
Telephone: 01637 873342
From abroad: +44 1637 873342
Address: Trenance Gardens, Newquay, Cornwall, TR7 2LZ