Vanessa and Jeremy visited the Australian Reptile Park and join the Kids2Keepers Program during the July school holiday (in NSW). Both our reporters had a great time.
Read their Articles below:
Article by Vanessa:
Reporting on Kids 2 Keepers Program at the Australian Reptile Park.
First stop: the Feeding Room! Fourteen of us were jostled into a rather small white room, filled with a variety of labeled food tubs and cages stacked against each wall with different reptile species in each one. It was here, our guides explained, that each reptile was fed, and had their cage cleaned out on a daily basis. Today, however, we teens would be preparing their food and giving to them.
Since the group was so big, we were split into two smaller ones: those who wanted to feed the reptiles a vegetable mix, and those who wanted to feed them live insects and bugs. We would also be staying in these small groups for the rest of the day, although we would be participating in the exact same activities. We were instructed on how much to feed each reptile as well as where to put each food plate in their cage – all the while, our guides gave us a brief background of each reptile’s characteristics, habitat and diet. Each of us learnt new things about the feeding program at the reptile park: for instance, whereas most of us believed that these reptiles were supposed to get fed everyday, we discovered that most of the reptile in the room actually got fed only twice or three times a week!
Feeding time took roughly an hour-and-a-half, before we moved outside for morning tea. This provided both groups with an opportunity to mingle around and get to know one another before we split back into original groups and resumed the day’s activities. During this time, we were shown into another backstage room, filled with large boxes, all tightly packed together. These boxes held some of the park’s baby crocodiles, which they were keeping for other animal parks or until they got bigger to put on display. These crocodiles, our guides told us, were in fact quite dangerous as they could jump incredibly high and were also incredibly strong. Warnings were issued to keep our hands out of the boxes when we peeked inside, because each of these reptiles was also capable of jumping quite high. To prove their point to some of the more rowdy members of the group, they showed us a few painful-looking scars they had received from some of the reptiles in the room. That definitely made us feel a little queasy about staying in the room too long!
Progressing into the next room, we were placed in front of numerous venomous snakes each one of them seemingly glaring out at us all and hissing threateningly. Some of the snakes’ thick bodies looked strong enough to break the thin glass screen of their enclosure. It was a relief to hear that the screen was made of sustainable material; however that feeling was immediately taken away when our guides enthusiastically leapt into stories which placed emphasis on each snake’s strength. The keepers were left scratching their heads when a mad rush for the door was made after the first story.
Thankfully, after viewing the venomous snakes, we were taken to see a few of the park’s furrier animals. Wombats, kangaroos, tortoises, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, koalas, lorikeets, owls, parrots and bats were all on the agenda, with the keepers permitting us to enter each animal’s enclosure and play around with each one. The most amount of our animal handling time was spent with the wombats and koalas, mainly due to the adorable baby wombat hustling around the enclosure and the fact we could actually stand next to the koala and pat it, without the animal scratching or biting us in any way. Back in the feeding room, we were given a bit of time to hold a reptile of our choice; the feeling of their scaly skin and the incessant movement of their tongues was almost entrancing. It was also the time for us to choose which reptile we wanted to present to our parents and guardians at Show-and-Tell time at the end of the day – the activity the whole group was reluctant to do.
Lunch time came and went, before we collected jam, Nutella, condensed milk and molasses spreads to place in each animal enclosure, with the exceptions of any reptiles, amphibians or arachnids. The purpose of this was to give the animals new smells and tastes everyday, so that they would not get bored in their everyday enclosures. Therefore, with a spoon and spreading knife, we all proceeded to spread a dollop of each product in different places within each enclosure, before standing back to watch the animals investigate the treats we set out for them.
On the other hand, instead of giving treats to the reptiles to have, we pulled out plants and rocks from a rather large paddock at the back of the park. These plants were for the reptile enclosures, and served much the same purpose as the treats in the mammals’ enclosures. The only difference was that we had to spray the plants with the same chemicals we would use to kill human head lice. We were told that any parasites in the plants would die as a result of these chemicals, because if they were transferred onto the reptile’s skin, then it would result in the development of an excruciating rash.
Finally came that dreaded time of the day: Show-and-Tell. With each of our selected reptiles packed into plastic cages or canvas bags and piled onto a trolley, the group trudged along, with the dreaded (stadium) drawing closer and closer. It was more of an adolescent phase everyone was currently in: the sheer embarrassment of presenting a reptile you knew nothing about in front of a whole bunch of people you didn’t know – nobody wanted to look stupid, or draw attention to themselves. Fortunately, all went well and our guide keepers helped us throughout the presentation, saving us from any possible embarrassing moments, bringing our long day out to a cheerful end.
All in all, I believe that each group member in the Australian Reptile Park’s Kids 2 Keepers Program left with new experiences and skills. It was hard to believe that the day had gone by so quickly, with all the new friendships developed and information gathered about each reptile or animal. The excitement and expectation of the day’s events created the amiable atmosphere that kept everyone in good spirits, with the message of the usefulness and delightful time at the park imprinted in everyone’s minds.
Article by Jeremy
By Jeremy S
Reporting on Kids 2 Keepers Program at the Australian Reptile Park.
I don’t want to be a zookeeper. Don’t get me wrong – reptiles are great, but I don’t know if I’d go as far to start a career in the field. Being the oldest out of all at the program and learning that each other kid owned multiple reptile pets at home, and could be safely classified as reptile fanatics – I knew immediately I was a bit of an outsider. Having said that, I embarked upon the K2K program program at the Australian Reptile Park with an open mind, and by the end I can genuinely say a new affection was sparked within my heart towards these scaly creatures.
We arrived at the break of dawn – 8am, to be greeted by our Keeper leader and co-ordinators; Joel who is also the founder of the program and the lovely Julie. I would later learn that their thrilling sense of humour and passion for their jobs is what creates half this fulfilling experience. After a quick OH&S rundown we preceded to take upon the ‘gruesome’ chore of feeding the creatures. Surprisingly, despite the frozen mice and buckets and buckets of crawling maggots, roaches, crickets and other critters, the activity proved thoroughly rewarding – showcasing the animals’ interesting (and often strange) behaviours and living conditions. From feeding worms to Iguanas by the tongs to dropping mice into the prying mouths of Alligator Snapping Turtles, experiencing the different techniques used to feed the many creatures was something I had never done before.
Essentially, the program in its entirety was a whole new experience for me. It’s one thing to watch these animals from behind a fence, take photos from a distance and tap upon the glass that separates you from them. It’s a completely new experience to walk into these enclosures, hold the animals, feed and refurbish their homes. This is what Joel and Julie taught us to do in the K2K program – something unique and interesting to the zoo.
What was most gratifying within the program was the providing of an opportunity to personally experience all the animals on show at the park – within a ‘behind-the-scenes’ environment – and truly get a taste into a day in the life of zookeeper. Throughout the event we were able to handle ALL of these animals, which was by far my most valued undertaking. Now, to clarify – snakes have never really been my thing. Prior to this I can comfortably say I was not the fondest of these no-legged specimens.
However, from having Diamond and Green Tree Pythons (amongst many others) slithering around my neck and in my shirt and carrying a Boa Constrictor (that required all 20 of us) across the park, I felt a new connection with these beings. Maybe it was the bubbly eyes of the baby alligators that gazed up at me like a baby to his mother within my hands, or perhaps the trusting nature of the Galapagos Tortoise as I sat upon his back. Nevertheless, after physically dealing with them individually and up close, you not only learn a lot about the animals but about yourself. Maybe you will discover a soft part inside of you that is tender towards these often scorned beings!
All in all, the K2K program is highly recommended, and left me pleasantly surprised. Surprised at the fact that it was constructed towards all ages of the teenage bracket, not just younger groups. Surprised at the fact that it opened a new home in my heart for creatures I may once have regarded as fiendish. And ultimately, surprised at the fact that zoo keepers are exciting and interesting people!
The Kids 2 Keepers Program is held at the Australian Reptile Park.
More information: http://www.reptilepark.com.au/
AUSTRALIAN REPTILE PARK
Pacific Highway, Somersby NSW 2250
ph: +612 4340 1022 – firstname.lastname@example.org