Zoo Watch: Wearing shorts in the winter

Zookeeper Ben Gulli with Bactrian camel at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Zookeeper Ben Gulli with Bactrian camel at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo - Credit: Archant

Right now it’s still summertime back home in Victoria, Australia; temperatures have been threatening to top 40 degrees Celsius (oC) and I’d be lathered in sun block and perhaps thinking about having a barbeque after work.

Bactrian camel with Australian keeper Ben Gulli at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Bactrian camel with Australian keeper Ben Gulli at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo - Credit: Archant

So when I was coming through Dunstable the other morning on my way into Whipsnade and the car said it was - 5oC outside it is fair to say I knew I was a long way from Down Under.

I started my job at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo back in August and have been in the UK for almost nine months now so I know it can get warm here in the UK, but working in sub-zero temperatures certainly brings its challenges as a zookeeper.

Smashing frozen water troughs in the morning is a task I rarely had to do in Australia, for example.

Another noticeable difference is the impact of daylight saving time, meaning we finish around 4pm in the winter as opposed to the summertime finish of 6pm.

We still have the same amount of work to do when the clocks go back, just less time to do it in.

Previously I had been working as a keeper at Werribee Open Range Zoo near Melbourne but decided to come to England to gain experience working at a different collection and with new species.

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Werribee Zoo is very similar to Whipsnade in that it is very large at 560 acres and is the sister site to the better known city-based Melbourne Zoo, much like we are partnered with ZSL London Zoo here.

There are mainly African species at Werribee so it was great to have the opportunity to work with a host of European and Asian animals here at Whipsnade, such as the brown bears, gaur and Bactrian camels – I’d never even seen a moose before I started here.

If I had to pick my favourite species though, I would have to say I enjoy working with our two wolverines – Puff and Pige – the most.

They have really cool adaptations that allow them to survive in subarctic tundras, for example anti-freeze fur and specialist teeth that allow them to rip meat from frozen prey.

In fact, those adaptations would have been particularly useful during a couple of recent snow storms at Whipsnade where I actually witnessed snowfall for the first time.

All the animals have access to indoor shelters where they can retreat from the elements and stay warm, but as a keeper I still have to get the work done outside.

Despite the freezing temperatures though, I have remained loyal to wearing my shorts no matter what the weather rather than reverting to trousers.

A lot of people might reckon that’s because of some Aussie bravado but in reality it’s simply for practical reasons – the work shorts have more pockets than the trousers.