This February half term, families can explore what it's like to work at the Zoo with our Whipsnade in Action trail. Ahead of the activities, Anusia Acus gives us an insight into life as a zookeeper.
What’s it like to look after some of the world’s biggest animals?
A total privilege! There's something magical about witnessing incredible moments only a handful of people can actually say that they've seen. The first time a baby rhino gets to its feet, or a giraffe clicks with its training and stands still to let us take a blood sample – working with these giants brings me so much joy.
Who are your favourites at Whipsnade?
I love our brilliant bunch of hippos but my other favourites are the giraffes. I’ve spent a lot of time working with them and training them individually and it’s so rewarding to see them progress. Bashu, our male, has been learning to present his front hooves on a block for x-rays and nail trims. This means we can keep his feet in tip-top condition without any discomfort – and that he receives one of the world’s biggest pedicures!
When did you know you wanted to work with animals?
From a very young age. I fell in love with dogs and horses from the get-go and knew I needed to work with animals – big or small. At the age of seven I was riding horses every weekend and by my teens I was looking after Rasputin, a retired police horse. He was a bit of a scaredy cat, which had ended his career, but started our journey together.
What do you think surprises people the most about being a zookeeper?
That we really have to think on our feet. We’re faced with a lot of different situations that require us to respond quickly; if an animal is injured, or there are complications at a birth, we need to react – and we need to get it right. We see the whole circle of life for our animals, it’s amazing but a massive responsibility.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had as a keeper?
Witnessing the birth of our giraffe Khari in 2019. I was there from start to finish. From seeing these little hooves emerging, to a beautiful, slightly wobbly, calf four hours later taking his first suckle from mum Luna. It was a magical experience, I’ll never forget it.
What do you do when you’re not at the Zoo?
I love being out in nature. I go for long walks across fields, woodlands, and my local nature reserves, looking out for birds and trying to identify them. There’s nothing better than a nice walk with good company – whether that’s human or dog.
What are you most proud of?
That I’ve proven I can achieve what I set out to do. All I’ve ever wanted is to work with animals and, after years of volunteering and building up my experience, I’ve climbed the ladder and now I’m a qualified keeper. Sometimes it may take a while, but with enough determination and hard work, you get there in the end.
Families can explore some of the coolest jobs in the world - from a Zookeeper to a zoo gardener - this February half term. Our Whipsnade in Action trail runs from Saturday 12 to Sunday 27 February, and is all included in Zoo entry.
This article has been repurposed from an interview written for Wild About, ZSL's magazine for Gold members, Fellows and Patrons.