Meet the team: Tom

1. What is your role at Newquay Zoo?

I am part of the Living Collections team as a cover keeper, this means that I work across all sections at Newquay Zoo, but at the minute I am mainly focused on the hoof stock and primate sections.

2. What does a typical day for you involve?

This is entirely dependent on what section I am working that day. Given my tendency to move around the site I always try to catch up with my fellow keepers about anything new or any news from the section I will be working that day. Each of our sections has a keeper diary with information in it from the previous day’s activities so it’s essential I read this to familiarize myself with what is on the cards for the day. Then I go about my rounds, checking and feeding animals and making a game plan for the day ahead. Then inevitably a lot of cleaning, food preparation and ensuring the animals and Newquay Zoo itself are being cared for.

3. What is your favourite animal and why?

My favourite animal in general is the polar bear, an unrivalled predator in size and power and infinitely awe inspiring yet so on the brink of survival as a species sums up the fragility and beauty of nature. Everything about them fascinates me.

At Newquay Zoo it’s a very difficult decision, we should never have favourites but there is no escaping some of the characters we have. It’s a tough choice between two; Dilang, our old female warty pig, everything about her makes me smile, she is infinitely charismatic she has a way about her and a care free aura, she makes some noises you didn’t think possible from nature, often seen napping in the sun and will do anything for a snack – inspirational.

The other contender is Miss Moneypenny, one of our goats, her shape is mesmeric and has a permanent expression of bewilderment, you just can’t help be suckered in by her ways. She is so wonderful she is the image for the zookeepers group chat. You’ve got to be doing something right if you end up as a group icon.

4. Did you always want to be a zookeeper and why?

When I was younger, I never thought it possible that I would one day work with animals, no matter how much I wanted to, it was always a dream rather than a reality. So, when I had the chance to be in charge of my own destiny, I put everything I could into it. It would be false to say I always wanted to be a zookeeper because growing up I had no idea what I wanted to be and working with animals always seemed so far away. Animals and nature have always been very close to my heart so I am incredibly thankful and proud that I have achieved what I have.

5. What is your educational background?

I have a degree in wildlife conservation with zoo biology.

6. When did you become a zookeeper and where?

I became a zookeeper circa 2010 at Blackpool Zoo during my gap year from university. I went to volunteer for six months and found myself in the right place at the right time and was offered a job, so stayed for the year. It was very difficult to go back to my studies and finish my degree but I am very glad I did. When I finished my studies, I was lucky enough to be re-hired at Blackpool Zoo and my career continued from there.

7. What is your favourite part of the job?

There are so many positive aspects of the job it’s very difficult to pin point a favourite part of it. The people I work with are all wonderful and pleasurable to be around, the animals are obviously fascinating and a privilege to serve and I never underappreciate the pleasure of working outdoors.

8. What is the most rewarding part of the job?

Selfishly: knowing I achieved something I never thought I would. Being happy in my work is more than I could ever ask for.

Unselfishly: seeing visitors at our zoo being inspired by our wonderful animals, inspired to be more conscious of their standing in the world and the impact they can have, when messages of conservation and environmental responsibility are taken on board it makes me feel like I am doing something right.

9. What is the most challenging part of your job?

I am the opposite of a morning person so getting up early and getting in before 8am is torture but it is all worth it.

Obviously when we lose animals to the great zoo in the sky it can leave a big cloud over your days, it can be hard to accept that nothing lives forever. We do everything we can to provide the best quality of life to all of our birds and beasts which can result in some very strong bonds between you and your animals.

10. What has been your most memorable experience as a keeper?

I have been so lucky in my career, I have had the honor of working with and being around an unbelievable number of different species; apes, elephants, sharks, seahorses, electric eels, penguins, giraffes – the list is endless, my entire experience of being a zookeeper has been a highlight of my life. I hope it can continue for many more years.