Lisa dishes the dirt

THEY are dirty jobs - but someone has to do them! We challenged our reporters to try some of the smelliest, dirtiest jobs around. In the first of a series LISA WOOLLARD mucked out the animals at Colchester Zoo.

THEY are dirty jobs - but someone has to do them!

We challenged our reporters to try some of the smelliest, dirtiest jobs around.

In the first of a series LISA WOOLLARD mucked out the animals at Colchester Zoo.

AS soon as I walked into the Kingdom of the Wild enclosure, an aroma hit me.

It was an instant reminder of the smelliest job a zookeeper has to do.

And because this is where large animals such as giraffes and rhinos sleep, I knew this is going to be one big job that I would not forget in a hurry.

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Zookeeper Emma Fluke, who oversees the part of the zoo where the Kingdom of the Wild enclosure is, helped me prepare for my role.

She told me that each animal in the enclosure has its own style of bed and a different timetable for when it needs to be cleaned out.

Giraffes have deep layered beds of hay which are topped up regularly and cleaned out thoroughly twice a month so that bacteria lying underneath are not disrupted too often. Luckily this is not one of the two days when a complete overhaul is needed and I escaped with just brushing the isles in between their boxes.

There may have been a lucky escape with the giraffes, but the bad news was still to come when I learned hippos are simply given rubber mats and allowed to do their business anywhere they please. It wouldn't just be one area I would need to concentrate on.

And things got even worse when I learned that cleaning out the rhinos is known as 'heavy duty mucking. I couldn't put it off any longer and so on went my wellies and the latex gloves - which are apparently only normally used by the most squeamish of zookeepers - and down went my notepad and pen in exchange for a shovel.

“I don't even notice the smell anymore,” said Emma as we started clearing the mounds.

“You soon get used to it, but I do notice it when I come in on a day off in my own clothes or when I come back from a break away.

“I always think it is funny to compare the state of the zookeepers, from the first time you see them in the morning to when they go home at night. Let's just say their cleanliness levels drop a bit over the day.”

Starting to regret my decision to wear a white coat which had just come back from the dry cleaners, I began to understand what she meant.

It takes three keepers five hours a day to clean up after the animals in this area, and 'poo pick' the roaming paddock in which they play outside.

Every day the Kingdom of the Wild enclosure produces two truck loads of dung which is taken to a communal muck heap at the back of the zoo.

Halfway through my stinky task I realise my broom has seen better days, and I am told that the work takes its toll on the tools used in the process.

“Every broom needs a new head monthly, because of the extensive sweeping we have to do here,” Emma said.

“We have a whole cupboard full of brooms, rakes and shovels which are needed just for this enclosure and others will have similar rooms,” she added.

But despite the nature of the work we are doing, Emma loves her job: “I feel the muckier the job the better it is. A lot of zoo keepers want to get their hands dirty and I am no different. Getting up to your knees in filth is part and parcel of the job and we love to get involved.”

She has been in her job for almost three years and has always worked with animals. When she first left school she worked with horses at stables.

She said: “I then became an instructor but wanted to broaden my horizons so did a National Diploma in animal care.

“From there I went to work in Drusillas Zoo in East Sussex before I started here in the kid's zone Familiar Friends. I have since had a promotion and now oversee the whole of the back of the zoo.”

I asked her if it was just trainees who had to muck out the enclosure, but she laughed and told me they would be there all day if everyone didn't help out.

By this time I decided to ditch the coat, for fear it was attracting too much muck and decided to brave the wintry weather without it.

“The winter season is the hardest,” Emma admitted.

“Working outside you do notice the colder months and so do the animals. Everyone, no matter how passionate about their job, does have days where they would rather be elsewhere and the majority of mine are over this time.

“However that feeling soon passes and after we have finished all the mucking out we get to train the animals and carry out Animal Enrichment which is exercise and entertainment.

“This is always really rewarding for both the keepers and the animals and always reminds you why the cleaning out shift is worth it.”

It may have been a smelly job but I did enjoy getting to see the animals, and after all who can say they went to work with giraffes, rhinos, zebras and ostriches today?

N Is your job the dirtiest? Call Star features on 01473 324798.

TO get a taste of what being a zoo keeper is all about, there are new Keeper Shadowing experience days at Colchester Zoo.

Sessions include the chance to get close to the penguins and help with their feeding; to meet the Komodo dragons, with the unique chance to step inside their enclosure; the chance to meet and feed the lemurs and, finally, the chance to fly a bird of prey.

The Keeper Shadowing experiences offer a behind the scenes insight in to the day-to-day running of the zoo, and animal care.

Each session includes zoo admission, a souvenir pack and certificate and a hot drink. It lasts twenty minutes and is available to visitors aged 15 years and over.

See www.colchester-zoo.co.uk or call 01206 331292 ext 227.

1260 The year All Saints church in the zoo grounds is thought to date back to.

2,420 Kilos of fruit and vegetables are eaten by the inhabitants every week.

3,000 Creatures live in the zoo, including insects, fish, birds and mammals

16,000 pounds is the daily bill to run the zoo.

Kito the zoo's baby elephant, was the first elephant to be born in the world after only one IVF treatment.

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