Education Grant – Alastair – DMZAA Update

One of the Charity’s main goals and aims has always been furthering education in primate welfare and conservation. As such we provide grants and funding to cover relevant courses, lectures, and conferences. Alastair Bigger is one of the latest individuals to receive our education grant to support him in completing a Diploma for the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals (DMZAA).

Alastair says “Having always wanted to work with animals in some capacity, I possibly went the wrong way about it, finding myself on the academic side of the table and potentially out on gaining real experience of working with primates. Studying Conservation & Ecology at Undergraduate and Masters level did not necessarily prepare me for a life in the zoo industry, and though voluntary work gave me some indication, I always felt the need to learn more. When I heard that the Jim Cronin Memorial Fund could fund a grant for me to complete the DMZAA (Diploma for the management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals) and further my education I had to take the opportunity, and so far, the course has been everything I expected and more.

My induction week at Sparsholt College provided a fantastic chance to network with fellow keepers from other zoos, wildlife parks and rescue centres, while rubbing shoulders with and learning from leaders in the industry such as Chester Zoo’s assistant registrar Liz Ball, and veterinary surgeon Dr Heather Bacon. Each day included engaging talks on important components of the industry, ranging from conservation, to horticulture and enclosure planning.

The highlight of the week for me was a behind the scenes tour of Cotswold Wildlife Park. Naturally, I chose to tour the primate section, this led to conversations with the primate keepers, giving me a chance to compare roles and swap stories about the primates in our care. It was fascinating to also speak to other keepers who haven’t worked with primates and learn about their experiences with animals ranging from sea otters to tarantulas. I came away from the induction week, keen to get started and having made plenty of new connections and friendships.

To date, I have completed 6 modules covering the history and purpose of zoos and wildlife parks, conservation, research, education, enclosure management and the principles of breeding. The modules have provided me opportunities to liaise with different departments at Monkey World, for example the Education team and the Maintenance department. Each time I have learnt something new, gained from their expertise and carried the learnings with me into my day-to-day work as a primate keeper. I have even used technology kindly provided by the Monkey Life production team to perform behaviour observations in the gibbon house.

An ongoing part of the course involves gathering evidence of my work as a keeper, including transporting animals and creating novel enrichment for the primates.

I have learnt so much from the modules, but talking to my fellow keepers and members of other departments has proved incredibly valuable. The extensive knowledge everyone has provided has helped me excel, achieving merits and distinctions.

I’m looking forward to the challenge of the remaining modules and exams, and would once again like to thank the Jim Cronin Memorial Fund for giving me this opportunity. I am extremely grateful.”