Oaklands College pupils become keepers at Whipsnade Zoo

Ed Grace (l) and Evan Woodstock (r) feeding emu.

Ed Grace (l) and Evan Woodstock (r) feeding emu. - Credit: Archant

A summer with a difference has been enjoyed by seven animal care students from Oaklands College who have seen the other side of life at Whipsnade Zoo.

Kelly Read mucking out zebra house

Kelly Read mucking out zebra house - Credit: Archant

The students on the animal management extended diploma course on the college’s Smallford campus have been experiencing life as keepers at the zoo which is home to over 3,300 animals.

From observing veterinary procedures and helping train the animals to providing stimulating enrichment activities and learning about the zoo’s vital breeding programmes, the students have gained invaluable knowledge of what the role of a keeper involves.

One of the students, Kelly Read, 18, who has been working on the Asia and Africa sections, said: “I have got to work with a lot of different species, including the one-horned rhinos, sloth bears and tigers.

“The placement is fairly long placement, which has meant I have been able to get to know the personalities and characteristics of each of the animals and learn how their training benefits them.

“I am definitely interested in a career in conservation, so it has been a great experience to learn how the various breeding programmes are run here at the zoo.”

The eight-week long summer placements are part of a long-running partnership between Whipsnade Zoo and the college aimed at providing students with the experience they need to enter an increasingly competitive job market.

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Student Ed Grace, 18, who worked with the zoo’s birds and Asian animals, said: “The highlight of my placement has to be helping the keepers catch one of the sika deer that had somehow managed to escape being tagged for identification.

“After we eventually caught it I was able to carry it in my arms to a secure location where we could attach the tag to its ear.

“I want to go on to study wildlife conservation at university and this work placement has been really beneficial as it has allowed me to gain experience of working with many different species.”

Evan Woodstock, 18, who also aspires to become a conservationist, added: “I have been really lucky in that I was able to help train a number of the zoo’s animals, such as the saki monkeys, lynx and alligator snapping turtles.

“The training is hugely beneficial as it helps the keepers weigh the animals and perform minor medical procedures – blood tests, for example – without unnecessarily causing the animal distress.”

Senior keeper Chrisy Sellwood-Brown said: “We are always happy to take on the students and it is very helpful to have the extra pair of hands around too!

“It is nice to be able to pass on our knowledge as keepers and show the students that being a zookeeper is more than just shovelling poo – there is actually a lot of fun stuff involved like training and providing enrichment for the animals.”