Company: Wildlife Park
Job title: Animal Keeper
Carly’s year 10 work experience placement with Curraghs Wildlife Park provided her first insight into animal care at the age of 15. After falling in love with the work, she continued to volunteer at the wildlife centre and followed her passion to obtain a degree in Zoo Management - before returning to the Island to work in her dream job.
My first encounter of working with animals was when I was lucky enough to secure my year 10 work experience placement with Curraghs Wildlife Park whilst attending Ballakermeen High School.
I loved the work I undertook as part of my work experience placement so much, I asked if I could continue coming back to the wildlife park in the summer holidays for the voluntary experience. I was grateful to work on any days they could accommodate me It is important to keep building experience and knowledge about the field you are interested in, so I took up every opportunity to do so.
Training to look after zoo animals
After completing my GCSEs, I applied to Reaseheath College in the UK - an agriculture college which in recent years has expanded to now include sports, equine and zoo studies. Reaseheath College is based in Nantwich, just outside of Crewe, which is very close to Liverpool and made it convenient to visit home. I also have family who live nearby in Crewe, so was great to know I had people close to me if I was feeling homesick!
Unfortunately I didn’t achieve my Maths GCSE when I was at school, and so needed to take a year out before applying to college to complete this. However, it worked out for the best as it meant that I was 17 by the time I went away to college in the UK and, for me, was much better than leaving home at 16 years. I was more mature for and ready for college, and it made it easier moving away from home so young.
The college is a wonderful place to live and study – all of the wardens were friendly and based on campus. Most of the wardens were also our subject tutors, which was great for continuous learning and being able to bounce ideas off them outside of lessons.
Whilst at Reaseheath I studied towards an Animal Care and Management BTEC Diploma – this is equivalent to three A-Levels over two years. I then stayed on at Reasehealth and completed a University course in Zoo Management through the University of Chester, which is a Foundation degree in Science over two years. Whilst some people go down the zoology route, I was more interested in Zoo Management as this is much more practical and hands on. I wanted to be more involved with the daily care of the animals and was grateful the Zoo Management course was introduced to cover this.
The core subjects of the Zoo Management course were; Anatomy, Behaviour and Ecology (which is focused for those interested in conservation), and finally IT systems. Zoos have a database for managing their animals and can list surplus animals for other zoos to pick up – so we were taught how to use this system and also carry out the statistical analysis and monitoring of animals in our care.
Each term was spent in a different section to allow us to gain experience across the varying fields of animal care; dog grooming, small mammals, aquariums, reptiles and zoo animals. This helped us to focus where within the field we wanted to specialise – as someone who wanted to work with animals but wasn’t sure in which capacity, this was an opportunity to experience the specialisms. It was a great opening to discover the possibilities, I know friends from the course who enjoyed particular sections and are now dog groomers, working in agricultural care and myself as a zoo animal keeper!
Life on the Isle of Man
The Island has always been home. I enjoyed living in the UK whilst I did, but after four and a half years I was ready to come home and the Manx way of life. After graduation I wanted to come back to the Island to be with my family. Even though I’m back on the Island, it’s still easy to visit the city across the pond if I want to. After all, it’s just a 30-minute flight or 2.5 hour boat journey away.
Working with animals on the Isle of Man
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 11 years from my week of work experience to being in the job I am today!
Although this may sound a bit cheesy, animals have always been attracted to me, almost as much as I’m attracted to them! I think I was always destined to end up in an animal-related job. The value of work experience shouldn’t be underestimated. My mum encouraged me to get some work experience at the MSPCA when I was younger. It made me realise that I didn’t want to work with domestic animals, and instead wanted to specialise in other fields. The work carried out at the MSPCA Is wonderful, but it wasn’t what I was looking for in a job. There’s so much to learn and do here at Curraghs Wildlife Park as there is such a variety of creatures which require care!
Curraghs Wildlife Park is keen to make sure its team is well equipped and prepared for the job. They send us on training courses when there is the opportunity to do so. In the past I’ve been sent to zoos in the UK for instance, where I could learn from other zookeepers what they have found out about caring for their animals and develop specialising in the care and management of different species. It’s great to have the opportunity to collaborate with other zoos, with Curraghs investing the time and resources in making sure that we’re fully trained and qualified, and best able to care for the animals.
My favourite animal under my care is the lemur – they have cheeky personalities, I have got to know them each individually and also had the privilege of naming the two youngest born under my care. They’re always happy to see me (although usually it’s because I’m carrying food for them!). I’m not a fan of spiders, but unfortunately, I do have to look after the tarantulas! Luckily, they are quite low maintenance and so are not too hands on to care for. I do like the snakes though.
I will have been here three years in February. Having been taken on as a trainee initially, I completed a six-month training position with Curraghs. I’m now a full-time keeper and delighted that they were able to keep me on with the team.
Staff turnover is low here at the wildlife park. They provide a nice working environment and fulfilling job roles. When considering my future development within this field there are a few things to take into consideration as to the nature of your role and caring for the animals in the long-term. If you go on to a management position you usually relinquish a lot of the hands-on care duties. Although it’s something I would like to consider in the future, I love caring for the animals and whilst I’m young I enjoy doing the hands-on work, it’s what I got into this field to do!
About Curraghs Wildlife Park
The Curraghs Wildlife Park is the Isle of Man’s only zoo. Constructed at the edge of the Ballaugh Curraghs a site of scientific interest (Ramsar site) the Park attracts visitors from across the Island and is a popular destination for tourists.