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1970

Working at the zoo

By Chas McKenzie

I lived on a farm until I was 14, then worked in coal mining at 16 – so was used to hard graft and working with animals. My dad told me about a good zoo in Chester that I should try and get a job at. I wrote a letter to the zoo and got an interview. I quit my job then and headed to Chester – I didn't really know how to get to Chester or where I was going once I got there, but I just got on a train! I had my interview on the Thursday and started working at Chester Zoo on the Monday.

I've worked on every section of the zoo bar reptiles and fish. I started on the rhino section, working with the hoof stock. It was really hard graft then, you had to scrub everything by hand, and it had to be spotless! One of my favourite animals is the Arabian gazelle. This animal moved in to a big paddock on the rhino section so I worked with them quite a lot. We ended up losing all but six of the gazelle's so we put them in quarantine. After a while we brought them back to the zoo, and we managed to raise the numbers! We worked long hours, sometimes through the night to make sure they were looked after.

I have a soft spot for these animals as I worked so closely with them to bring up the numbers at the zoo. I had to hand rear quite a few too. It was a great achievement – especially when all the animals I hand reared went on to breed.

I've hand reared many different species over the years, including porcupines, tigers, puma and a black panther!

Photo credit: Kenneth Green

See more: Mammals, Staff