Whether you’re a student on a recognised course, volunteer, or a well experienced employed person, training and continued professional development are an essential aspect in any career. In the work of zoos there are various opportunities but some challenges for those wishing to enter the profession and to gain the necessary experience, knowledge and skills, or for those wishing to further develop and keep up to date.
I have been working with Sparsholt College for several years, most notably on the DMZAA zookeepers course, having written one of the units and acting as an assessor. However, I have also been working with animal care students connecting them to the work of zoos. In March I was pleased to help organise and run a day visit for students to Dudley Zoo, with a particular focus upon enclosure design. Dudley Zoo have been very welcoming and accommodating and recognise the value of tailor-made workshops and activities for the students in giving them meaningful experience.
At Dudley we were delighted to see the new snow leopard enclosure (extension) and hear about plans for other developments; to meet staff for Q&A – including education presentation, keeper work, and meet the curator. Through such activity the students not only develop their learning but understand more the profession some of them wish to join and contribute to.
Zoos have many skilled and qualified staff that can support each other and those wishing to join the profession, but there are barriers making it more challenging – not least the ‘you don’t have relevant experience’ or ‘you’re not well connected to zoo work’. Internships are offered by some, but are out of reach of many who can’t afford it. Apprenticeships are another option but of course highly sought after and competitive.
Meanwhile, zoos themselves are subject to external review and licensing by their local authority (in an Act overseen through APHA of Defra). Local Authority staff are charged with organising and overseeing the zoo inspection regime, supported by Secretary of State’s inspectors (vets and zoo professionals). Standardisation and training for zoo inspection is limited – partly due to resources and geography given that authorities across the country have zoos to inspect and costs of running and/or sending staff on training are subject to budget issues. However, it was great to be part of delivering a day of Zoo Licensing Training held at Sparsholt College in March.
The delegates received training and presentations from current chair of the Zoos Expert Committee, vet and zoo inspector Anna Meredith, and zoo inspector, vet and former zoo manager, Jon Cracknell and myself. Additionally we looked at a few of the enclosures at the Sparsholt College Animal Management Centre (which is a licenced zoo). The opportunity to discuss what the ZLA requires, interpretation of terminology, what conditions must be placed on licenses and gain a better understanding of both the process and timeframe for zoo inspections, was welcomed by all. It is hoped that more LA staff and zoo inspectors will undergo regular CPD activity to ensure good management of the Act and good standards in our zoos.