Alan Woodward, who is a Zookeeper at Reaseheath Mini Zoo, shares his incredible career journey within the Animal Management sector and his advice to anyone thinking about following a similar career path.
Alan’s first steps in Animal Management
Our Zookeeper Alan Woodward started his first zoo role when he was just 11 years old in Barry, South Wales.
He knew from an early age that he wanted to have a career with animals, collecting animal books, model animals and volunteering with friends to work at his local zoo. Here he gained invaluable knowledge at weekends and school holidays working under supervision with monkeys, sea lions, flamingos, lions and tigers.
After six years at the zoo he moved to Chester Zoo, after impressing the Mottershead family with his knowledge and enthusiasm.
Alan also had a large variety of pets at home which included small monkeys and birds, reptiles and bred five species of chameleon.
When we asked him why he wanted to go into animal management he replied: “It’s a vocation really, an extremely rewarding way of life.”
Alan spent 40 years at Chester Zoo and in that time had an abundance of incredible experiences.
In charge of his own section called “Whipsnade” his team looked after a varied selection of animals including polar bears, hunting dogs, jaguars, giant otters, sea lions, bongo antelope and more. His study with Alison Cronin, Director of Monkey World, was a particular highlight looking into the behaviour of polar bears which reduced stereotypical behaviour by 75% by introducing activities that they were most likely to do in the wild. His team were also the first to breed the cheetahs and giant otters.
During this time Alan had the chance to hand rear a lion, Tejas, which is one of Alan’s lifetime highlights. Sixteen years ago, Tejas was given into Alan’s care and reared from home in the first few weeks of his life.
These very special moments are captured on YouTube clips, called Zoo Days, and show the unique bond and relationship that they built over the years. Tejas is now in a Zoo in France where Alan has been a number of times to visit, and they still remember each other fondly.
Opportunities and travelling the world
Alan has travelled extensively, both privately and with his role as a zookeeper, rehabilitating cheetahs in Namibia and training zoo staff in Zambia. As well as being very approachable and friendly, his knowledge and experience with a vast range of animals is second to none. He has been Vice Chairman of the local Fauna and Flora Association of which they had a large following and had the opportunity to meet Jayne Goodall and the conservationist Ian Redman.
When asked which is his favourite animal, of which he finds a very hard question to answer, he settles on the big cats. It’s because they are so charismatic and keep you on your toes. Alan believes you have to really get to know and understand your animals that you are looking after and that is the key of being a successful zookeeper. You can then easily spot when things are going wrong and be able to rectify situations quickly. The worst thing is to become complacent with any animal as that is when things can become dangerous very quickly.
Why does Alan think Reaseheath is the best place to work and study animal management?
“The Reaseheath Zoo is very unique and has a wide range of animals to work with. You have the time and right environment to be able to work closely with a range of animals including lemurs, meerkats, bush dogs, a serval and tapir, owls, otter and reptiles to name a few. The zoo is by no means small in variety of animals, but it is smaller than larger zoos and that means that you have the chance to get up close to the animals and build a rapport.”
What would you say to someone that would like to study animal management?
“This isn’t a job for everyone but if you have the right attitude, are devoted and not afraid to work hard, then it can be the most rewarding career in the world.
“There are many careers that you can explore with animal management, in conservation, wildlife abroad, zoo work, veterinary, nutrition, behaviour and research based. Stay focused and get involved with as many new experiences that you possibly can, either volunteering or through study, so that you can work out the best route for you.”