Animal-loving youngsters are being introduced to zoo-keeping by a South Cumbrian wildlife charity.
The six-week courses at Lakeland Wildlife Oasis near Milnthorpe teach everything from habitats to husbandry, not forgetting less glamorous aspects like mucking out.
Eight budding keepers, aged eight to 16, took part in the first ever course, which ended just before Christmas, and another course began this week.
Lakeland Wildlife Oasis boss Jo Marsden said: “The most common question our keepers are asked is how to get a job working with animals.
“Our courses are an introduction to zookeeping. It’s somewhat condensed but nothing is missed out. It will help young people really understand what we do here.”
The courses include a mixture of fun classroom-based activities, discussions and practical work.
Pupils learn why animals look the way they do and why certain types of enclosures suit different creatures.
There are also sessions on how and why keepers monitor animals’ health and the right way to transport different types of animals, including insects and reptiles.
Lakeland Wildlife Oasis is a thriving visitor attraction, which aims to be educational as well as enjoyable. Many of the animals, including the snow leopard cubs Loki and Luna, are there as part of breeding programmes to help safeguard their species in the wild.
The Keeper Academy demonstrates how staff who work at the charity keep the animals healthy and happy.
The zoo’s assistant manager Jayne Gibbins said: “It’s amazing how many people have asked about how they can become a keeper. It might look like it’s about stroking animals. Really it’s about picking up poo and cleaning windows. But it’s a job I love.”
Mrs Marsden added: “Some people really enjoy it, while others realise it’s not for them.”
The Junior Keeper Academy is a six-week programme open to children and young people aged eight and above. The current course runs from 1pm to 4pm each Saturday.
Call 015395 63027 for more information.