TAFE NSW students will put their skills into practice with meerkats, fennec foxes and red pandas all part of a new training program offered by TAFE NSW in association with Billabong Zoo.
TAFE NSW Wauchope students studying Certificate III in Captive Animals complete a weekly practical lesson at Billabong Zoo Port Macquarie as part of their 12 month course.
TAFE NSW students have the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the life of a zookeeper which includes assisting in the design of exhibit furnishings, preparing animal diets and aiding in training and conditioning programs the zoo has in place.
Upon graduation, TAFE NSW students will be job-ready and fully equipped to work with a broad range of captive animals using the skills they have learnt while training at Billabong Zoo.
TAFE NSW Student Michael Shaper is taking part in the training program and says he looks forward to class every week.
"It's amazing that we can experience these practical learning opportunities through TAFE NSW before even gaining employment in the industry.
"I have been able to be involved in animal presentations, weighing koalas, assisting in health checks and conducting behavioural enrichment with red pandas.
"Being able to study at TAFE NSW Wauchope is fantastic; the nearest education facility that has a partnership with a captive animal facility is hours away, it would mean having to move away.
"My goal is to secure employment at somewhere like Billabong Zoo upon graduation."
Training under TAFE NSW teacher of Animal Care & Management, Blake Stone, who also works at Billabong Zoo, students are getting realistic exposure to zoo-life.
Mr Stone says it is important that students get to experience the parts of the job that are less-exciting than being hands-on with animals, for example, cleaning and raking animal enclosures, preparing fish for animals and grounds maintenance of the zoo itself.
"Animals are complicated and sometimes dangerous. There is only so much you can learn in a class room, the rest of the knowledge these students need is in a workplace, which is what we are providing.
"Billabong Zoo have hired numerous TAFE NSW graduates and will continue to do so. TAFE NSW is offering students the opportunity to have a guaranteed placement while working, which usually causes students a lot of stress to find themselves."