Monday, 6 March 2017

My Journey so far

Katie Powell

As you might have seen, I help Chris and Mark with promotional work, fielding enquiries and anything else that I can. But, I must confess, before I met them I had never worked in a zoo, sanctuary or any other animal care facility (unless you count being a voluntary “cat cuddler” at a rehoming centre in my early teens!). You may well wonder then how I came to be part of the team, and it is that which I’ll try to explain in this blog post.

I first met Mark and Chris in the summer of 2015, towards the end of my Conservation and Biodiversity MSc at Exeter University in Cornwall. Earlier in the year I had registered to take part in a Student Environmental Enrichment Course (SEEC). It had seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, I would get some practical, hands on experience of an aspect of working in a zoo, which was something completely different for me, with the majority of my work to that point being desk based and related to the effects of climate change on wild animals. However, I do confess that with dissertation deadline day looming, and the fact that I only vaguely knew one or two people taking the course with me, I was pretty apprehensive.

I needn’t have worried.

I learnt so much every day of the course, and left each evening feeling so invigorated that I was able to go home and fit in a good few hours more dissertation work. On the final day of the course, where we were split into teams to build enrichment for our selected species (you’ll skip to this part, building items already designed by Mark and Chris, for your team building adventure), I not only consolidated what I had learnt about enrichment theory, but also the practical skills of tool use, rope splicing and general DIY creativity.

A selection of the items my group made for the primates at Newquay Zoo

Seeing my work used by the animals was incredible and so rewarding, but also enlightening. I had got so caught up in what I believed the macaques would use the enrichment device (a water sprinkler that can be seen in the video here) for, that when they continued to use it in the rain, once it was empty of water I was shocked and mesmerized, standing in the rain to watch them for a long time after most others had headed home (video here).

Before I left for the day I wanted to catch Chris and Mark to show them the video I had taken of the macaques, and to thank them for the experience. I can’t remember the exact phrasing I used, but it was something along the lines of “I have spent £9000 to do my masters and I feel exhausted, defeated. But I have spent £150 to do this course and I feel invigorated, revitalised.” I really couldn’t have thanked them enough.

Fast forward to today and I have helped on one SEEC in Belfast and two team building events, one at Lakeview Monkey Sanctuary and one at Port Lympne. I have also helped out on the Lakeview Enclosure Build (stay tuned for more information on this in my next blog) and I’m booked to assist on two more courses this year. Oh, and my masters worked out ok too, I passed with distinction and won an award for my thesis, no doubt thanks to those extra hours of work I fitted in after each day at the SEEC!

But in all seriousness, it truly is an honour to work with these guys and to be part of a project I am so emotionally invested in. I hope I’ve been able to convey the personal benefits I gained from my experience and that I believe you can also achieve from a team building event with us. I hope even more, that I’ll be seeing you on just such an event sometime soon!

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