Young adventurers with a love for animals have experienced up close encounters with cuddly and cold-blooded creatures by being given a sneak peek of what it’s like to be a zookeeper.
Symbio’s Junior Keeper Camp gives kids the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at the wildlife park and keeper Zahra Pope said there was always a lot of excitement and anticipation about what was to come.
“At the beginning of the day they’re always asking questions like, ‘Do we get to pet animals?’ or ‘Do we get to go in the enclosures with the animals?’ and I always like to keep it a little bit of a surprise,” Zahra said.
And the surprises didn’t disappoint – from patting koalas to holding snakes, the kids got to interact with some of their favourite animals.
“Their faces just light up, their eyes go really big and they just get really energetic,” Zahra said. “It’s always phenomenal to see that no matter what animal it is they all get excited.”
They also played a part when it came to feeding time by creating sandcastles to stimulate the meerkats, hiding the dingoes’ lunch around the enclosure for an extra challenge, serving bits of fruit to the cassowary and giving bottles of milk to the goats.
But the kangaroos were a hit for even the youngest kids.
“My favourite was feeding the kangaroos and patting them because they’re soft and they’re gentle,” said eight-year-old Rory.
It was also a highlight for her six-year-old brother.
“They’re fluffy and it was ticklish,” he said.
Although the children are only young, with most still in primary school, for participants like Cassandra, it is a step closer towards their dream career.
“When I’m older I really want to be a zookeeper so I’m just trying to learn some more facts about it,” Cassandra said.
Another junior keeper Olivia also loved the opportunity to pick the keepers’ brains and learn new things about the animals.
“We went to see some birds, tawny frogmouths, and they told us that they had different patterns so none of them are the same just like a footprint or a fingerprint,” she said.
“They are all really, really eager,” Zahra said. “They seem very excited; they’re always asking so many questions.”
Many of the participants like Paisley were already passionate about all kinds of creatures.
“I love all animals and I love poisonous ones too because if they try and hurt you it’s just because they’re trying to protect,” Paisley said.
But the program was also a chance for some kids to overcome fears.
“We’ve had some kids that have been a little nervous with reptiles and by the end of the day they’ve actually been really willing to hold some reptiles and do some really fun activities with them,” Zahra said.
Zahra, who also runs keeper experiences for older kids and adults, said she loved sharing her experiences and knowledge of the animals at the park and also helping inform people about the small ways they could make a difference.
“Even though they’re so young, they still have a lot of potential for the future and I love explaining to them that they can also help.”
For more information about Junior Keeper Camp visit the Symbio website.