Discovering the exotic

Walking a Bosc Monitor lizard on a lead is all in a day’s work for Animal Care students at Lancaster and Morecambe College.

The lizard is one of several in the exotic animals department at the college, which are studied by students on the course. 
Reporter Michelle Blade went along to handle a lizard, chat to the students and find out more about the course.

Photo Neil Cross'Animal Welfare at Lancaster and Morecambe College'Nixie Sharples with a boa constrictor

Photo Neil Cross'Animal Welfare at Lancaster and Morecambe College'Nixie Sharples with a boa constrictor

Lizards are not my thing I have to admit. I’m more of a cat person. But when the chance came to handle a bearded monitor lizard called Bob I was keen to experience what it was like to hold a cold blooded animal.

Bob was quite placid and sat quietly in my hands although I was a bit scared he would make a run for it when he got fed up. He wasn’t particularly heavy and his skin felt cool to the touch.

I was a bit concerned about his claws ripping into my skin but my fears were unfounded.

He tried to run off when Victoria the tutor tried to put him on my shoulder but he was quite happy to sit there for a while until he went back into his cage. I found out afterwards that lizards can carry salmonella, so it’s important to wash your hands afterwards.

I’ll admit I found learning about lizards fascinating and I was keen to learn more about the course which runs at the college.

Victoria Bond, programme area manager of Animal Studies and Horticulture, said: “We run full-time courses for animal studies and we teach the students how to look after the animals from day to day including feeding, diet, to preventing illness and what to do if an animal is ill and the ethics of keeping animals in captivity.

“As well as exotic animals we have mammals such as rats, mice, gerbils, chinchillas and we have birds in an aviary.

“We teach the students about dogs and cats and we also bring our own dogs into college for the students.

“At the college we have the College Canines grooming parlour which has been recently refurbished.

“Students can learn the basics of animal grooming and washing pets.

“The parlour is also open to the public.

“There is level 1 which teaches students the basics and we go up to level four and five.

“We’ve had lots of positive feedback from the students about the course.”

Students who are part of the Year 11 ‘Aspire to...’ programme built special vivariums for the exotic pets in the Animal Care department.

The learners, who also study in the Animal Care department one day a week, will begin their next project in the coming weeks.

The project will involve working on building a vivarium for the boa constrictor and cages for the chinchillas, rabbits and other animals for the new Animal Care enclosure.

Nixie Sharples, 20, is a second year student on the animal care course.

She said: “I did an art course but I didn’t realise there was an animal care course.

“I also have geckos, a bearded dragon, a Bosc lizard and six snakes at home.

“I’m really into the reptiles and the Bosc lizard is my favourite.

“It’s a lot better to come on a course like this to learn how to handle the animals, which is the best bit.”

Joanne Bell, 28, is a second year student.

She said: “I’ve been to university and I was working for a time but I’ve always loved animals.

“I hadn’t had many dealings with the exotic animals, such as the reptiles and snakes and it was scary the first time I held one, but now its second nature.

“The technicians show us the different techniques for the animals and I think I would like to be a technician one day.

“The leopard geckos are my favourites but one of them doesn’t like being held very much.

“I want to go on to level four and five which covers everything from animal welfare to the laws that prevent animal cruelty.

“I’m travelling to Gdansk in Poland in a few days to work in a zoo there for three weeks alongside the keepers.”

Sarah Grounds, 29, is also a second year student.

She said: “I’d always wanted to work with animals so it was naturally the next step to join up. I’ve learnt so much about the exotic pets. I was always drawn to cute things but I just like the fact that they are not your every day, average pet, they are all very different and they all have their own personality.

“The bearded dragon always wants to get out and have a cuddle.

“I want to do veterinary nursing so I will have to to go Myerscough college for two years after this course.

“You learn stuff about handling and being around the animals constantly, you pick a lot up.”

For more information on the Animal Care course, contact Lancaster and Morecambe College on 01524 66215 or visit