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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Keeper Leanne talks to the animals at Lake District park

The Easter holidays are upon us and Leanne Harrington is looking forward to welcoming families from across Cumbria and beyond to the Lake District Wildlife Park.

THE Easter holidays are upon us and Leanne Harrington is looking forward to welcoming families from across Cumbria and beyond to the Lake District Wildlife Park.

Leanne, 26, is one of the keepers at the park, near Bassenthwaite.

She spends her days, come rain or shine, feeding and cleaning out creatures including the park’s meerkats, mongoose, tapir, otters and lemurs.

But, as well as making sure her beloved charges are well cared for and kept entertained, Leanne also has a role to play in entertaining and informing park visitors – and it’s a role she loves.

She says: “I like showing off the animals. It’s nice being able to tell the public things they don’t know about them and let them encounter them. We get some kids visiting who have never held a rabbit.

“I like educating people that some of the animals, like the snakes and reptiles, aren’t as scary as they think.”

Leanne settled on a career as a keeper while studying zoology at university. During her degree she did a year’s placement at Chester Zoo but the Lake District Wildlife Park, she says, is an even better place to work.

Leanne says: “For the first three years I was here I worked with all the animals on site. There aren’t many jobs you can do where you get to work with everything. There are benefits to being part of a small park.”

For Leanne, helping to educate visitors about the different species and to inspire some to find out more is important for wildlife conservation.

She says: “A lot of our animals are either endangered or from species that include endangered breeds. Sometimes when people see them it can make them more interested and want to get involved.

“They might go away and do research and tell people about it, which helps with conservation.”

Her job involves up to three talks a day, enabling visitors to learn more about the meerkats, otters and lemurs and, in some cases, feed them.

There are half-hourly talks, including a hug-a-bunny session, where visitors can cuddle the pets, and a reptile encounter.

This Easter there are more chances for hands-on experiences, as the discovery centre opens its doors in the middle of each day to allow visitors to meet and stroke spring animals.

There is also an Easter trail to encourage everyone to search for clues and find out more about the park and its inhabitants.

For Leanne, every day is special and she feels blessed to have a job she loves so much.

She says: “I love working with animals. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was little.”

And she is particularly fond of this time of year, when visitor numbers pick up, the animals have more people to keep them entertained and there are more chances to promote conservation.

Leanne says: “It’s lovely when there are lots of people walking around and you’re presenting your talks and they’re listening.

“Some of the animals are quite inquisitive, like the meerkats.

“They’ll sit on people’s shoulders and sometimes we get them sitting on people’s heads and using them as a lookout.

“It’s the best thing ever for them. It’s giving the animals new interactions and new smells.

“It’s making it as different and interesting as we can for the animals as well as the visitors.”

The Lake District Wildlife Park is open throughout the Easter holidays.

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