Ever dreamt of looking after animals for a living? Now you can try the experience on a very special day out
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Lizzy Dening lives her dream as a Zookeeper for a day at London Zoo
For most children, the idea of being a zookeeper is a dream come true – and one that many adults never grow out of! I’ve always been passionate about zoos and the amazing conservation work and vital research they carry out, as well, of course, as being mad about animals. So you can imagine the high-pitched noises of excitement I made when London Zoo offered me the chance to try their famous Keeper for the Day experience. Ear-splitting.
I arrived on a sunny morning and was immediately ushered into my fetching ‘Keeper for the Day’ boiler suit, perfect for keeping my own clothes spotless as well as helping me feel the part. Then the small group of us taking part headed to the zoo’s canteen for breakfast and a briefing about the day ahead.
We started off at the camel enclosure, shovelling up their droppings (hey, no one said zoo keeping was glamorous!) while watched over by their resident pair of Bacerian camels. After the hard work was finished, we were able to meet them face-to-face, and feed them some pieces of veg. Meeting strangers is all part of their enrichment, and means that if they need to be checked over by vets or new keepers they’ll be comfortable and well-behaved.
The morning was a whirlwind of activity – we went ‘backstage’ to the fascinating food preparation area (much neater than my own kitchen) and chopped up some tasty snacks for the bearded pigs, before heading outside to throw eggs for them to snack on while they waited for lunch. We clambered up wooden stairs onto a giraffe-height ledge, where we fed the resident long-legged ladies some fresh leaves, and soon learnt how strong their long black tongues really are as they grappled with the branches.
We also met three of the zoo’s giant tortoises, who love nothing better than having their legs tickled and their shells brushed – what an honour.
Next up, a visit to the penguin pool, where we scrubbed away at their grubby rocks, aided by some adorable little helpers. Who knew penguins were so curious?
We’d worked up quite an appetite after all that scrubbing and chopping, so we retired to the canteen, where we were lucky enough to eat from the staff section – just like real zoo keepers.
After a hearty lunch, it was time to feed some more friends, starting with a troupe of Colobus monkeys. There’s a strict pecking order when it comes to primates, so we had to be strategic in making sure the alphas got their fruit cubes first, before deftly sharing the goodies with those lower down the social structure. It was fast and furious, but I think everyone got an equal share in the end.
We also fed a pair of charismatic armadillos, who enjoy pushing around a plastic ball to release their snacks – just one of many examples of enrichment the zoo uses to keep their animals mentally and physically fit.
When it comes to getting hands on with some of your favourite critters, the Keeper for a Day experience is second to none. We spent much of the afternoon being clambered over (much to our delight) first by feisty coatis in search of fruit, and then by a gang of meerkats – one of whom, adorably, enjoyed picking at shoelaces.
We returned to the canteen for a final snack and to wax lyrical about the amazing day we’d had – everyone had different favourite moments (mine were the stoic tortoises). We were all awarded a T-shirt and tote bag as mementoes, and stepped back into real life. Sleepy, slightly grubby and ever so happy.