Gallery/Video: What does it take to become a zoo keeper? We found out during a day at Africa Alive
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
James Hall always wanted to be a zoo keeper. But his dream came true in ways even he had never imagined. James Marston reports.
Ever since he was small and saw some gorillas at Blackpool Zoo he’s been interested in looking after animals.
The 27-year-old said: “I am originally from the North East of England. I have always been interested in animals and always wanted to be a zookeeper.
“I got put off the idea because it is hard to get into so I did A levels and continued my education. My mum found out about a National Diploma in animal management which was taught quite close to where I was living. I studied for two years and at the end of it I applied to zoos all over the UK.”
James got an interview at Africa Alive in Kessingland.
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He said: “I didn’t get the job initially but they called me after a couple of weeks and offered me a position. I moved to Oulton Broad and started work in 2006. When I was 19. I was lucky as it is a difficult job to get into.”
Now a cover keeper at Africa Alive, James started his career by learning different sections of the zoo.
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He said: “My first section was farmyard which included looking after pygmy goats. I worked there for two to three months and then went to the primate section which included vervet monkeys and ringtail lemurs.”
After stints in the savannah section – addax, ostrich, zebra and blesbok – James went to work on the marsh section which includes lions, cheetah, water buffalo and ankole cattle.
He said: “I got an overview of all the different animals in the park so I gained experience on every area. I really enjoyed it.”
James also took a further qualification in zoo animal management and since 2011 James has been a cover keeper.
He said: “I don’t have a specific section. Each day I go wherever I am needed.”
His day starts at 8am
He said: “We usually get into work at about 7.30am. Every day is different but we start with a keepers meeting so we all know what we’re doing and what’s coming up that day.”
Each morning James and the other keepers check each enclosure, check the fences and check the animals are ok.
He said preparing the food – including meat for the carnivores – take place in the morning.
He said: “Each animal has a set diet sheet prepared specifically for them. Some animals have two or three feeds a day others have just one.
“After our morning break at about 9.30am we clean the enclosures until lunchtime. After lunch there is more cleaning or maybe a talk or feeding at 2pm.”
In the zebra enclosure James presents me with a shovel and I clear away some of the unmentionables left from the night before.
Administering some medicines as well as what is termed “enrichment” is also part of James’ responsibilities. He hands me an ostrich egg bound for the lion’s enclosure.
He said: “The lions will play with the egg for some time before they stand on it and crack it open and eat what’s inside. We also use melons and frozen blood – it keeps them active throughout the day.”
James and most of the team finish at around 5.30pm
He said: “There is a lot of cleaning but I really enjoy working with the exotic animals and seeing their behaviour up close. Each animal has a different character and characteristics. My favourite animals are the primates but I really enjoy looking after the lions as well.”
James said the seven strong pride of lions includes Jabu – the youngest of the male lions – one of James’ favourite animals.
He said: “He is rally playful and always comes over to see me. He is quite a character.”
As we walk round the 100 acre park James takes us to the newest arrival – a baby giraffe.
He said: “It is always exciting when a new animal is born.”
And as well as his love for the animals, James has found something else at Africa alive – his wife Emma.
The couple met in 2009 and now have a baby of their own.
Today Emma is manning the Lemur enclosure – an area where the public can walk through and observe the animal’s closely.
James said: “If you really want to be a zookeeper you’ve got to keep trying. You need to be hard working, have attention to detail and energetic. You’ve also got be able to talk to people as well. Its as much about engaging with the public as looking after the animals.”