Ear Scratch Rhino

Becoming a Junior Zookeeper for a day at Marwell

Ever since Isaac was little, if you asked him what job he wanted to do when he was older he would say “a zookeeper”.

I had looking into zookeeper for a day options for him for his birthday and decided to pick our nearest zoo – Marwell, as it had the best package.

Although Isaac’s birthday was back in April, Marwell’s Junior Zookeeper for a Day package is very popular and the earliest date I could book was this weekend, but he received a lovely invitation in the post with all the information about his exciting day at the zoo.

We arrived at 9am to join the other two children taking part. Each child has one accompanying adult with them, but other family members are offered discounted entry if they want to join them in the zoo.

We started off with a health and safety talk and the kids were then presented with a Marwell souvenir drawstring bag containing:

  • A certificate
  • A Marwell notepad and pencil
  • A badge
  • Stickers
  • Snack Voucher

We then headed off into the zoo to spend time with Marwell’s trained staff in preparing food and enrichment for their animals, mucking out their enclosures and meeting and feeding some of them behind the scenes.

Our guide for the day was Helen, who was brilliant with the kids, telling them the names of all the animals in the zoo and giving us information and fascinating facts about each as we walked past.

Our first stop was the giraffes, where we would be helping muck them out – after they finally persuaded Matilda to leave and go outside that is. Even the keepers are not allowed in the pen with them as giraffe’s have such a powerful kick that they can split a lion’s skull in half.

Matilda Giraffe

The kids were given their own broom and shovel and were instructed to sweep all the soiled sawdust and poo into a pile.

Zookeeper Giraffe

Once the floor was clean, they then had to use the scoops to pop the waste into the bin.


Once the floor was clear, they then got to lay down a fresh layer of sawdust for the giraffe’s, which they discovered help make cleaning their enclosure easier as well as helping to absorb moisture and make the floor more comfortable for the giraffe’s to walk on – all under the watchful eye of the giraffe’s of course.

Giraffe Marwell

Did you know: Giraffe’s are ruminant mammals. This means that they first swallow all the food that they want after some perfunctory chewing, and then bring up the half-digested cud back up to the mouth later, to chew on again – next time you visit, watch their necks and you can see the muscles contracting in rhythm to send the food back up the neck into their mouths!

Many of the animals in the zoo are more active at dawn and dusk, so we were really lucky to see the cheetah’s and leopards up close as we walked past.


Our next stop was the primate kitchen, where we got to make up special treat bags for the gibbons.

Morio Worms

This involved filling old paper food bags with straw, morio worms and peanuts and then folding them up as well as we could to give the gibbons at bit of a challenge.

Food Bags

Once finished, we took a short snack break in the Graze Cafe, before heading back to meet the keeper and hide the food bags in the Gibbons enclosure. We then got special access to watch the Gibbons try to find their bags and had a bit of a competition to see whose bag was the most challenging.


Isaac’s bag was the third to be found, but the first they managed to get into and they seemed to enjoy ripping it apart to find their tasty treats.

Gibbon Food

It was then off to meet another of the hoofstock team and the chance to meet the largest animal at Marwell – the rhino’s.


There are four rhino’s at Marwell; Kiri, Sula, Pembe and Jabari. Kiri and Sula are the old ladies of the group and Pembe and Jabari are both five years old and they hope to breed them in the next year or so as part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme.

Rhino - Marwell

They took quite a bit of persuading to come down and meet us, but finally all four arrived to say “Hello” and enjoy a tickle. They are especially fond of a scratch behind the ears!!

Ear Scratch Rhino

The final part of our zookeeper experience was meeting the bird team and feeding the penguins.


They were great fun to feed and even gave us a display of porpoising, where they leap in and out of the water in a rapid series of short, shallow arcs while swimming – leaving me with a face full of water, much to the kids amusement.


That was the end of our zookeeper experience and we were asked if we had any final questions before being left to explore the rest of the zoo on our own.


The Junior Zookeeper for a Day Experience lasts from 9am – Midday costs £185 per child, with accompanying adult free.

Top Tips:

  • Wear old trainers / hiking boots as you will be expected to dip your feet in iodine solution as you enter and leave each enclosure
  • Wear long trousers and neutral coloured clothes as some animals don’t like bright colours
  • Take a jumper / jacket – it can be chilly, especially in the shade

Isaac thoroughly enjoyed his zookeeper for a day experience and I it gives a real insight into the roles the zookeepers have to play on a daily basis.