Zoo Watch: Kirstie Skinner - keeper and sea lion trainer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 April 2018

Kirstie Skinner with the seals. Picture: ZSL Whipsnade

Kirstie Skinner with the seals. Picture: ZSL Whipsnade


Kirstie Skinner has worked with animals at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for almost six years. Before becoming a keeper and sea lion trainer, she was an Animal Studies lecturer for a college.

I work with ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s group of intelligent, inquisitive, gorgeous sea lions and our cheeky romp of otters (yes- that is what a group of otters are called), and this is my absolute dream job.

Whilst working with animals can be filled with laughter, amazing memories and obviously great Instagram material, it can be extremely hard work physically, as well as emotionally. Plus, you need to be able to work with people just as well as you can with the animals.

Here on the sea lion team, we need to be animal trainers, fishmongers, chemists (ensuring that our water is the correct PH balance for our sea lions), presenters, weight-lifters (fish are extremely heavy when frozen) and, of course, washer-uppers.

It’s the start of a new year and the team have been getting ready for an exciting season with a new sea lion demonstration that just launched at Easter. Training is in full swing (although Dominic, our male sea lion, seems to have missed the memo) and our fish mongering skills are being polished multiple times a day. We get so many fish scales stuck to us...they get everywhere!

Our new demonstration is all about the many ways we mentally stimulate our sea lions with daily training and enrichment, and it gives us a brilliant opportunity to talk to visitors about how everyone can help protect the ocean and the animals that live there. In fact, while we’re on the subject, did you know you can go seal watching along London’s Thames and help ZSL monitor the population of grey and harbour seals? Did you know that more than eight million tons of plastic is dumped in our oceans each year, but you could help this devastating issue by joining our #oneless campaign?

Weekends are our busiest times at the Zoo, and working with these beautiful creatures does require some sacrifice. Going out for a big night out isn’t always appealing when you know you’ll be picking up otter poo first thing the next morning, and sometimes we have to miss out on family BBQs or lunch dates with friends because whatever day of the week it is, the animals need our care.

So if you have a free weekend coming up, why don’t you make a date with your family or friends, and come spend some down-time with the amazing animals that live here at the Zoo. And while you’re here, give a friendly wave to a keeper like me who may be missing out on her dad’s legendary burgers. At the end of the day though, I’m still getting to spend the weekend with my family - it’s just they smell of fish!

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