In the latest blog, in the Chats with Conservationists series, we meet Sophie – an aspiring Zookeeper…
I would love to start off by telling you that conservation was the career I had dreamed of since I was young, but that simply wasn’t the case. It was only in 2017 that I realised I wanted a career in animal conservation. I have always loved animals and nature, but I never saw it as a career path!
Realising I want to be a Zookeeper
The moment that changed for me, was when I took part in a lemur encounter in Blackpool Zoo. I had been to plenty of zoo’s before, but this was the first time I had an up-close animal encounter. The encounter gave me plenty of opportunities to ask the keeper questions, whilst we created enrichment for the lemur’s and fed them a variety of fruits.
I asked the keeper a lot of questions about how he came to be a lemur keeper. It sparked my initial interest and was the moment I realised that animal conservation was the career for me. I enjoyed my experience that much that I ended up booking more encounters on the same day!
Fast forward a few years to the present day, and I am currently in my first year of studying BSc Animal Behaviour at Liverpool John Moore’s University (and I LOVE IT!). I want to be a zookeeper.
Just confirming that I want to be a zookeeper
Swimming with wild Manatees at Crystal River
In September 2017, I was fortunate enough to travel to Orlando, Florida. Whilst I was there, I booked a day trip to Crystal River to swim with wild Manatees. There was a lot of anticipation, as wild encounters are never guaranteed, but eventually, we found a mother and calf.
We floated in the water and watched as the mother and calf interacted, they even came over to say hi! The rule on the trip was to never approach or try to interact with the Manatees. If they approached us, we were to remain still and simply observe. This was my first wild experience and a truly breath-taking one.
Encountering Whale Sharks, Manta Rays and Turtles in Mexico
In June 2019, I visited the Caribbean Coast of Mexico. I specifically picked to visit in June, as I had done my research and found that June to September was Whale Shark Season. There was a high chance you could spot them in the wild.
I booked a boat trip on the Caribbean Sea to snorkel with the Whale Sharks. I was desperate to be able to swim with the largest fish in the ocean! We found a huge pod of Whale Sharks performing their annual migration, so we jumped in and started snorkelling. We were also fortunate enough to spot some huge Manta Ray’s too!
If you want to be a zookeeper, be prepared to volunteer!
Anyone who is in the conservation industry will understand what I mean when I say getting paid work with animals is extremely tough. Most places need you to have a couple of years of hands-on experience with animals before they will even consider your application. If you want to be a zookeeper, the market is very over-crowded with limited job opportunities.
So, I decided to get some experience behind me and started volunteering.
Poop scooping for snow leopards at Lakeland Wildlife Oasis
In the summer of 2020, when Lakeland Wildlife Oasis reopened its doors to the public, I applied and got a position as a volunteer. I initially started off working with Parma Wallabies and helped to educate the public and them. Then I progressed to working with a variety of animals, such as Fish, Reptiles, Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Emperor Tamarins, Cotton-Top Tamarins, Meerkats, and even Snow Leopards!
Being able to perform the daily duties that the keepers do, gave me a great insight into what to expect if I want to be a zookeeper. I also learnt a lot about a variety of species. Tasks typically included feeding, cleaning, weight management, enrichment, health checks and microchip scanning to identify individuals. Not everyone can brag that they have scooped a Snow Leopard’s poop!
Feeding hedgehogs at Jackson’s Animal Rescue
As of December 2020, I currently volunteer at Jackson’s Animal Rescue. This animal rescue provides refuge to several different wildlife species that are injured, sick or simply wouldn’t survive without human intervention. In 2020, they had 797 Hedgehog admissions, 64 Wood Pigeon admissions, 55 Mallard admissions, along with many more species that would not have survived without them.
I help out each week with Hedgehog care, including feeding, weighing, treatment administering and bedding changes. It’s not always a happy ending, as there are often individuals that won’t survive even with the care and attention provided by the rescue. There are definitely more success stories than heartbreaks!
How to get involved with conservation even if you don’t want to be a zookeeper
Getting involved with conservation at home is simple! Small, every-day changes can really help conserve our planet and the wildlife that inhabits it. I have made many changes over the past year to try and lead a more sustainable lifestyle, including switching to slow fashion brands (like Pigments by Liv), investing in reusable straws, bottles and bags, eating less meat and being much more conscious about how my actions and purchases can affect our environment.
Always remember: small changes made by lots of people can change the world.
Getting involved with conservation at home is simple! Small, every-day changes can really help conserve our planet and the wildlife that inhabits it.
I have made many changes over the past year to try and lead a more sustainable lifestyle, including switching to slow fashion brands (like Pigments by Liv), investing in reusable straws, bottles and bags, eating less meat and being much more conscious about how my actions and purchases can affect our environment.
Always remember: small changes made by lots of people can change the world!
If you’d like to follow my conservation journey, feel free to follow me on Instagram: @sophiegoll