It was my sons 1oth birthday and I wanted to get him something a little different, as I was strolling through the internet I came across an animal experience at Colchester Zoo. This would be perfect for him as he absolutely loves animals and is always talking about becoming a zoologist when he is older.
The Zoo academy introduces children from the age of 10 – 15 to what it is like to work with animals. It gives them a behind the scenes experience with a few of the animals from the zoo. With expert tuition from the keepers, the children get to meet some incredible animals and enjoy a ‘hands on’ lesson that they will treasure forever!
The experience includes: 2 hours with the animals and keepers, a whole day entry into the Zoo and a souvenir pack which includes a certificate.
The programme is designed to introduce children to a broad range of keeper skills. The Cadets go behind the scenes and learn how to carry out health checks, train animals, complete water tests, design enrichment and more! From the coatis and owls to our tortoises and stingrays.
It was a morning experience starting at 10am which meant that we would have the rest of the day walking around the zoo with the family after he had finished being a Zoo Cadet.
It was a lovely hot day and we was all very excited especially the birthday boy. I got to go along with him as he had to have an adult with him and what was even better was that he was the only child booked onto the experience so he had 1-1 time with the animals and keepers.
We was introduced to the keeper who would be showing Joseph around for the first half of the experience. And was walked on over to the first part of the behind the scenes to prepare some enrichment for the Parrots.
He was shown what to do and then Joseph began making some of his own. He wrapped up the food in paper, then he hid the paper inside some card and then wrapped it all up again in an egg carton. Enrichment teaches the Parrots to forage for their food and challenges them
Meet Gizmo, Isn’t he a cutie! He loved the attention he was getting from us and went absolutely mad when we walked away, when we turned back to face him he whistled at us.
After we said our goodbyes to Gizmo, Joseph was introduced to A ring-tailed Coati, a medium-sized mammal that is from the Racoon family. He was an excitable little fellow and was keen to come see who was visiting her in her home. The keeper placed a lead onto the Coati and asked Joseph if he wanted to take her for her daily walk. Obviously, he said yes. It was like walking a dog.
The keeper kept some treats for her in her pocket and when she was behaving on the walk, she was given some. The Coati was very much like a dog and was well-behaved.
After the Coati had her walk we said goodbye again to Gizmo, as we was passing and was led on over to the bird of prey where Joseph was introduced to some Owls. He was told that the barn owl needed to be weighed and that would be his job. They keep a diary of how much the birds weigh so that they feed them the correct amount of food.
Joseph had to keep his hand still as the owl was perched onto the glove on his hand.The owl got a little fluttery as he was adjusting himself and managed to scratch Joseph with his talons. This didn’t faze Joseph, he was just more determined to walk along with the owl.
Once in the weighing shed, he placed the owl onto the scales and using small weights he had to balance out the weight.
If a bird is under weight then it will have little energy to fly
Once the weighing was done, Joseph walked along with the owl through the wild display area where we met the next zoo keeper that would show us around on the rest of the behind the scenes experience.
He had a smile constantly on his face throughout the whole morning, he was so happy. It was lovely to see him doing something that he totally loves. He looked so at home and comfortable with the animals.
We was taken into the butterfly enclosure and again behind the scenes to see the cocoons of some butterflies and to release them into the enclosure
He was very careful as he carried the butterfly gently within his hands to let it go through the hatch
After he had released a few butterflies we made our way over to see the Tortoise. As we have a pet tortoise at home he was very excited to get close to a much bigger one.
He wasn’t allowed to pick him up but he did get to stroke him.
The whole time he was walking along with the zoo keeper he was told information about the animals. Joseph was full of facts and told the keepers a thing or two too. He knows a lot about animals and is always watching videos, documentaries and reading books about wildlife, animals and nature.
I didn’t even know that he knew as much as he did. He amazed me. I was so proud of him.
The next place we went was behind the scenes with a creepy crawlies. I’d say they were mini beasts but they wasn’t quite mini, they were huge!
I even had a little stroke of the hissing cockroach, they are so smooth.
Did you know that cockroaches are cleaner than humans? They are always washing themselves I’ll remember that next time I see one whilst abroad lol
The last part of the Zoo Academy was to test the water for bacteria and animal poo in the stingray enclosure.
With glasses and gloves on he was ready to do the experiment
Using a syringe he sucked up some of the water that had been collected from the stingray pool and he squeezed it out into a tub where he added in some drops from a bottle that would check the N02 and PH levels
Once he had checked the levels it was then on to the last job and that was to feed the stingray. He sat on the edge of the pool and lent over with a big rod and handed over the food to stingray that swam past
It was an experience that he will not forget in a while. A truly memorable day
His words “It was amazing!” He wants to work with animals even more so now.
The staff was friendly and the whole experience was very well organised.