BIAZA Vice-Chair – Zoological Consultant

Having been one of the individuals that pushed ABWAK and subsequently the Zoo Federation, now BIAZA, to establish a formal zoo keepers’ training course back in the late 1970s, zoo keeper and aquarist training has always been a subject that has been close to my heart. I qualified myself back in the mid-1980s and now I teach part of the course, focusing on welfare and ethics, and so I have an enormous sense of pride in the small role I have played and seen the early version of the zoo animal management course evolve into DMZAA, a course that is used not just in the UK and Ireland, but in some rather more remote parts of the world.

The current situation within the UK, the creation of a zoo keeper apprenticeship scheme, has been seen as a possible end to DMZAA. I am not of that opinion as I see the change in the zoo climate as a trigger for the next stage in DMZAA’s evolution. The occupation of zoo keeper has changed markedly in the 40 plus years that I have worked in the community. Formerly viewed as an unskilled job for the semi-literate, a view that is still held in many parts of the world, to one that is seen as both desirable and crucial in the global conservation battle.

Many young people now try and break into the zoo business as it has become a respected profession. Virtually all such individuals come with a diploma or degree in some aspect of animal management or the biological sciences, most of which do not prepare them for the job. If DMZAA and Sparsholt College’s contribution to the education of tomorrow’s zoo and aquarium keepers is to continue, I would suggest that the college is very well placed to create a “teaching zoo” along the lines of the original model at Santa Fe College in the USA.

The UK lacks a specific college course for wild animal keepers and I would suggest that given Sparsholt’s long and deep involvement in the subject and the fact that it has a zoo and aquarium facility on site, it is very well placed to create the UK’s first teaching zoo. Instead of a student going on to do a loosely focused qualification in the hope that it will secure them a zoo job, this proposed Sparsholt offering will be the only such full-time course in the UK and the students would graduate with a qualification that would exceed the current DMZAA.

I would fully anticipate that BIAZA would support such a programme and it would differ from the proposed apprenticeship scheme that is currently being discussed as it would provide zoos with suitably trained and qualified staff at the point of hiring.

Such a programme would present a significant shift for Sparsholt but I would suggest that it is the next logical step in the college’s National Zoo Academy.