Leila Boyd

Head of the Bear Section & Zoo Keeper, Jersey Zoo

My day starts at 8.00am. The first thing I do is check the animals and say good morning. Then it’s time to prepare the breakfasts. Once the food is prepared the big clean begins. I am based on the bear section so this means I am in charge of not only our three bears but, eleven meerkats, two otters, eight howler monkeys and three coatis. We are very lucky at Jersey zoo to have a dedicated team of volunteers which will help us with the food preparation and cleaning. Educating is a big part of my day, I make sure I make time to talk to members of the public about our animals at the feed times. Our animals are also weighed and health checked regularly so this will be a part of our weekly routine. Enrichment is something I make sure I do every day for our animals, giving them new and exciting ways to obtain food or trying out new scents in their enclosure to mimic hunting and scent marking behaviours. In the afternoons (if we are free) we become gardeners and concentrate on enclosure maintenance. By about 4.00pm the evening food prep starts and we begin the dinner feeds and last day checks. All being well we get out about 5.30pm but being a Zoo Keeper you have to be prepared to stick around longer if an animal needs you and you are always on call. We also end our day with boring paperwork; yes we still have to do the office bits as well unfortunately. This is usually a round-up of health and management notes from the day.

What do you think are the three most important skills to succeed in your career area?
Patience, being observant, physical fitness, good time keeping and communication skills are all key skills needed in zoo keeping.

Was this something you planned to do or did you change direction at any point in the past? If so, what was that and was it easy to do?
It sounds like a cliché but from about the age of 4 I knew I wanted to work with animals in some way, even when I left secondary school I remember getting the end of year award for ‘most likely to work with animals’. For a long time my dream was to become a vet nurse and so after college I got a job in the vet area at the JSPCA and loved it! However I quickly realised I knew very little about animals
and was eager to learn more about nutrition, behaviour, conservation and the health and welfare of animals so I applied to study a degree in Animal Science. It was that course that made me decide I’d like to become a Conservationist. Now five years on I am head of the bear section and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else!

What do you love most about working in your career area?
I love working up close with some of the world’s rarest animals and alongside like-minded and equally passionate people. I also love the education side of my job, seeing how interested children are in our animals and try to influence our visitors to get involved in some way, no matter how small, in conservation. I am helping to conserve endangered species and that is an amazing feeling.

Are there any negative aspects of working in your career area that people considering it should be aware of?
The winter months are long and the cold weather isn’t always fun, although being outside in the rare snow we get and seeing the animals experience it is the best thing ever! Obviously it isn’t a glamorous job and you do have to clean out some very smelly residents and on occasion end up being showered with who knows what. The animals become your family and friends and unfortunately we do sometimes lose some of those and it certainly hits you hard. The fact is you will always get attached to them no matter how much you try not to.

What training / quali cations did you undertake for your current role or are you currently undertaking?
The training and learning never ends! This is partly why I love my job so much, you are always faced with new challenges and tasks, learning something new every day. Qualification wise if you are going for a Zoo Keeping job experience is key, so whether you helped out on a farm or did volunteering at a zoo once a week it counts. They prefer you to have undertaken an animal related course because it sets you up with certain skills but I can honestly say this is the kind of job you will learn as you do.

Is there any other information that would be of interest to someone thinking of this career?
My advice would be to try it out first. Do some volunteering or shadowing to see if it’s really for you. We offer a student placement scheme here which is a great experience and most of our keepers here were previous students! We also have a ‘Keeper for a day’ experience which is perfect for seeing what a full day as a keeper would be like. Most of all I would say don’t give up applying. Zoo Keeping is a very popular job and usually a lot of people have applied when availability comes up and you will stand out if you are passionate and have some experience behind you.