Blog: Trials of a Keeper Educational Exchange Programme

Posted: 2nd February, 2023

KEEP is a new keeper exchange programme to help zoo keepers develop their experiences, Alice Vassallo tells us more…

We believe that spending time at other zoos and aquariums is vital for the continuing professional development of zoo keepers, which in turn will benefit the welfare of the animals. KEEP is the Keeper Educational Exchange Programme - a not-for-profit organisation that aims to connect keepers and zoos in the UK.

Our small team of three passionate zoo keepers provide a platform for zoos, aquariums and safari parks to advertise placements that welcomes other keepers in to learn from their team for a few days.

Our goal is bring the zoo industry closer together. We believe that sharing knowledge and ideas about husbandry/training/enrichment/nutrition is the best way for zoos to grow and learn, together.

We want to share the experiences from some of the Keepers that have already undergone KEEP:

Lucy White – Hobbledown Epsom to Shepreth Wildlife Park

“My day at Shepreth included meeting and assisting with the husbandry, enrichment and training of a variety of small mammals, primates and reptiles. I jumped at the opportunity of the exchange day as many of the animals it offered are ones which are likely to be added to my own site in the future and I wanted to gain some experience with them. I was also never going to turn down an opportunity which involved spending time with Aardvarks, Red Pandas and Porcupines.

Throughout the day, I got to:

  • See Shepreth’s successful training programme in action, which involved some weight-trained Genets and Black-tailed Marmosets, station-trained Capuchins and Red Pandas desensitized to a variety of procedures such as ultrasound, just to name a few!
  •  help with enrichment for Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Coatis, Cape Porcupines and Aardvarks (which was my highlight).
  • Toured the reptile section with keepers who shared lots of knowledge about their siteas well as gave information and advice about some of the inverts and reptiles at Hobbledown which was very helpful..
  • I was shown different parts of the site by the two curators, Yvonne and Dean, both of whom gave me lots of information about Shepreth including their conservation aims for the future.

All of the team that I met at Shepreth very clearly loved their jobs and were proud to work there, and after my exchange day I can see why!

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Shepreth and would recommend all animal keepers to do an exchange day. In just one day I learned so much, a lot I have already taken back to my collection, and much more which I am sure will come in useful throughout my animal career. Thank you so much to the KEEP team as well as Shepreth Wildlife Park for having me!”

Emily Phillips – Paradise Wildlife Park to New Forest Wildlife Park

After following the Keeper Educational Exchange Programme’s social media for some time, in November, I was lucky enough to work with the keepers at New Forest Wildlife Park for a day.
Emily feeding giant otters at New Forest Wildlife Park

Part of the process also involved acting as a ”guinea pig” for the KEEP team to test out their website which was very easy to use - simply creating a profile, uploading your CV and then clicking apply when you see a placement that interests you! As well as this, the KEEP team were always available if I had any questions along the way. 

I started my day by meeting the team who were all incredibly welcoming; it was interesting getting to talk to each of them and find out how they had gotten into this career. After being shown around the park, we completed the meal prep for the day and then went about the daily husbandry which included feeding lots of the different species around the park, cleaning the giant otter and asian short-clawed otter enclosures and going to the keeper talks. It was brilliant to meet such a dedicated and close knit team and additionally hear about the work they have done to care for rescued animals over the years. 

KEEP placements are a really simple way to gain some experience and a better understanding of the husbandry of species that you don’t already work with. As well as this, for keepers still early on in their career like myself, networking can be quite a daunting thing, but this is a really simple way you can do this while learning about some new species at the same time. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the bubble of your own collection, but visiting other sites, networking and combining resources can be invaluable. This was a hugely rewarding experience and I would urge anyone considering applying for a placement to just go for it!”

KEEP is for zoo staff at many different levels: for relatively new keepers, seasoned keepers, senior keepers and even team leaders. As long as you are over 18, with a year's worth of experience as a full-time keeper in the industry, you qualify for the programme.

By Alice Vassallo,

Visit for more information about KEEP

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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