As I may have mentioned before (!) I do have a fondness for penguins. So when I was given a “Keeper for a Day” voucher for ZSL London Zoo, I was naturally very excited, as it meant that at some point during the day I would get to meet some penguins.
The idea is for the group of participants to do a few tasks that are typical in a zookeeper’s day, and to also spend some time with the animals. As well as those I mention below, we got to meet meerkats, llamas and fish, as well as wander around the zoo after we had finished our keeper experience in the afternoon.
The first task of our day was to muck out the giraffes… a bit like mucking out horses I assume, except the giraffes are larger, need more bedding and make more mess! Lots of straw, lots of sweeping, and curious giraffes peering through the doors at us while we worked. We got to spend a bit of time with them after we’d cleaned their sleeping area – feeding them and watching them – before we moved onto our next task of the day.
Next on our list of things to do was food preparation. Each type of animal has its own diet, and around the walls of the kitchen were boards with details of the food for that particular animal at each meal. We spent a while in the kitchen chopping up fruit and vegetables, before going outside to feed the resulting combination to some bearded pigs.
The unexpected highlight of my day (equal to meeting the penguins!) was feeding the lemurs. I had come across lemurs before, but hadn’t really paid them much attention. But when in a cage with them, feeding them small squares of fruit and vegetables, I had plenty of time to watch them frolic around.
They’re funny things, with their stripy black and white tails and endearing faces. I loved their little hands, and the way they reached out to take the food that was offered to them. I have since looked out for lemurs whenever I’m in a zoo or wildlife park, as I now find them fascinating!
We were also allowed to feed the tigers during our day – with strict instructions on where to stand and how to hold the tongs with the meat on. And of course the tigers were in a cage. It was weird being so close to such dangerous yet beautiful animals. They were like giant furry orange cats with random black patterns on their coats – but I wouldn’t have wanted to encounter a hungry one.
And the final part of the day was a meeting with the penguins. At the time I did my “Keeper for a Day” experience, the Penguin Beach exhibit was fairly new, and the penguins weren’t yet used to meeting people. The gate was opened for them to hop into the penguin meeting area, but it was left entirely up to them whether they chose to come and say hello to us or not!
Fortunately a couple were curious enough to do so – including the infamous Ricky the Rockhopper, a penguin who likes taking the attention away from reporters when they try to film next to him, and definitely enjoys having his photo taken. Unfortunately, the penguins must have heard that I liked them, and were playing hard to get – this photo shows the closest I got!
I thoroughly enjoyed my “Keeper for a Day” experience, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys spending time with animals (and is prepared to get muddy and help as needed!). For more details, visit http://www.zsl.org/shop/zsl-experiences/keeper-for-a-day/