Lackham is nowhere near the coast, but watching Tom Kells chase sheep in the torrential August rain, his time spent studying guppy behaviour in Cornwall seems like very appropriate training. Because rain or shine, animals always need looking after. And Lackham isn’t short of animals.
Bearded dragons, snakes, cockroaches, tarantulas, stick insects, fish, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, raccoons, marmosets, lemurs, wallabies, goats, sheep, donkeys, geese, ravens – and we’re barely scratching the surface.
Throughout the year, this menagerie is fed and cared for by staff and students. However, when the students are away between June and late August, the mammoth task of feeding, cleaning and caring for each and every one of these animals is left to Animal Care staff such as Tom and Chloe.
Tom has been at Lackham for three years. Originally from the West Country, Tom studied Conservation and Biology at University before moving to research fish in Cornwall. Now a lecturer and a technician, his time is split between teaching on the Aquatics module and caring for the animals.
Meanwhile Chloe, having progressed through Level 2 and Level 3 in in Animal Care and Management at Lackham, started doing work experience at College on a Sunday to meet the required hours for her course. From this, she was offered a position as an Animal Technician, and has spent her summer working full-time at Lackham.
A typical day for Tom and Chloe begins at 8.30am when all are animals checked and fed. Between the two of them, the first round takes roughly two hours. With the Animal Care Centre currently undergoing total refurbishment, old enclosures need deconstructing and emptying, animals need new places to live, and there is always the usual cleaning to be done. Highly intelligent animals like lemurs and raccoons also require constant mental stimulation, so enrichment is crucial for their welfare.
Food prep is also a big part of each day. Tom stops at Sainsbury’s on his way into work, where they provide him with fruit, veg and other food that can’t be sold but is still perfectly edible: today, it was roughly 8 full bags of iceberg lettuce. At Christmas, a minibus was needed to get all the Sainsbury’s provisions to Lackham! After food prep, Tom and Chloe do the second round of feeding before closing up.
Even in the pouring rain, Chloe radiates positivity about her time here.
‘I’ve always wanted to work with animals,’ she says. But besides the range of animals available to study and work with at Lackham, it was the lecturers she met on an Open Event that made her apply.
‘Everyone, not just the Animal Care tutors, is so lovely and welcoming, so chatty and always happy to help you.’
Obviously a hands-on person, Chloe says she loves how practical the course is.
‘It’s much easier to retain information when you’re putting it into practice, such as using an X-Ray machine in our Veterinary Nursing classes.’
Chloe’s ambition is to combine caring for agricultural animals with veterinary nursing, and said her favourite animal at Lackham is the youngest female lemur: ‘every time I go in the enclosure she comes and sits on me!’