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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Zookeeper for a day? Yes please!

Tangling with tapirs, larking about with lemurs and meeting meerkats – there’s a chance for youngsters to become a zookeeper at Trotters World of Animals near Bassenthwaite.

The wildlife park has launched zookeeper experiences for eight to 14-year-olds and Kara Burrough, eight, of The Green, Little Broughton, and Annalise McCreedy, eight, of Poole Road, Salterbeck, Workington, were the first to try it out.

Moving on from the traditional petting zoos of yesteryear, park bosses hope it will help educate and entertain youngsters by bringing them closer to exotic animals.

The session allowed the two girls to get up close to the tapirs, lemurs and meerkats.

They started by chopping up apples, carrots and parsnips to feed to two Brazilian tapirs, under the watchful eye of keeper, Matthew Browning.

The 12-year-old tapirs, Muffin and Rio resemble a cross between a pig and a small elephant.

Tapirs are herbivores that live mainly in the Amazon rainforest and are the second largest land mammal in South America.

Kara showed no fear in grooming or feeding the tapirs.

Kara said: “It was wonderful. I liked feeding the tapirs because they tickled your hands.”

Next they had the task of mixing mealworms with bananas and chicken paste, and spreading it on two logs, to feed 14 meerkats.

Both girls were excited to get the chance to see the meerkats, an animal made famous by the comparethemarket.com insurance adverts.

The girls laid down the logs and stood back as the meerkat family – led by mum Julie and dad Dave, squabbled over the food.

Several of the meerkats were close to the girls and stood on their hind legs.

They weren’t allowed to get too close, however, as the animals can be unpredictable.

Kara said: “I liked the meerkats, they were so cute.”

Annalise added: “They are smaller than they look.”

The meerkats scored highly on the cuteness scale when compared to the tapirs, but it was less hands-on work for the girls.

And if the girls thought the meerkats were adorable, they were in for a pleasant surprise with the lemurs.

The end of the experience saw the girls chopping up apples, bananas, peppers, broccoli and grapes, to feed to the ring-tailed lemurs, from Madagascar.

They have bright yellow eyes and a striped black and white tail.

Their behaviour is similar to that of a monkey, as they hang from branches and groom each other.

The lemurs were by far the most active and playful of the three animals.

They jumped on the girls shoulders and were not afraid to be stroked.

Two of the lemurs had given birth to babies just days earlier and could be seen carrying them around, tucked under their chest.

Kara said: “My favourite has been the lemurs because they are so cute and all kept jumping on me and did tricks when I tried to feed them.”

Annalise said: “I thought at the beginning that the tapirs would be my favourite but I preferred the lemurs because they jumped on us and they showed off.”

Richard Robinson, park manager, decided to start the junior experience after several requests.

He said: “They are doing three short and sharp things over the space of an hour. It keeps the kids interested.

“It’s a one-off. You can’t do it anywhere else. It’s very much an educational experience. It’s learning outside.”

Kara said: “I would like to be a zookeeper. It’s definitely something I would like to do.”

The junior experience is for children aged eight to 14, costing £30, and has to be pre-booked.

For more information, call 017687 76239.

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