I am one of those fortunate people who has always had a rough idea of what job field I wanted to end up in. For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep passion for all animals big and small.
I distinctly remember my favourite childhood toy being the RSPCA van which came with small figures of injured pets- one of them being a sheepdog with a bloody paw. Of course, at that age, everything was black and white and wanting to work with animals meant I was going to become a vet. I followed this ambition right through to the late years of secondary school when I was choosing which subjects I would take on for my GCSEs. I chose a few things that I enjoyed and had good grades in and a handful of subjects that would benefit my future.
I left secondary school ready to attend an agricultural college where I was enrolled in the Animal Management Diploma course. I was the only one attending from my previous school and it was quite a scary step to take but I saw it as the only option in order to get where I wanted (at this point it was as vague as a job working with animals).
College and University
College was great fun to me and I thoroughly enjoyed the specialised subjects of the course. I had soon decided that I wanted to become a veterinary nurse. I found myself attending a placement at my local veterinary surgery once a week and loved every single minute of it. I picked up the work very quickly and found my confidence grew so much. It felt good to be in a field that I felt comfortable in.
So, everything appeared to be sorted and planned out for me; I would finish my college course and take on an apprentice in order to qualify as a veterinary nurse.
Nope. Instead, I took a completely different pathway and decided I wasn’t yet ready to settle in such a specific field. I wanted to learn more. I applied to study Zoo Biology at Nottingham Trent University and was delighted to have been offered a place.
Not long into the course, I found my real passion and my new ambition was now all things conservation. I had visions of myself in the rainforest carrying out important research or at an animal orphanage somewhere in Africa working with endangered animals to be re-released into the wild. I was excited and I couldn’t wait to see where this degree could take me.
How I became a primate keeper
In my second year, my ambitions were still much the same and I was applying to take a sandwich/placement year in Sumatra, tracking tigers as part of a research programme. It was almost all sorted but unfortunately fell through. I had to quickly find myself an appropriate plan B. I was pushed for time and had to decide on a placement quickly so went for an easy option; somewhere close to home where I could drive in every day that would “sort of tick the boxes”. I applied for an internship at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park to volunteer as a primate keeper. Why primates? Because I thought they were cool and knew I wanted to do my dissertation on them…
Now, if I’m completely honest, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about this plan B option and had never imagined myself zookeeping. I can’t think of a way to express the huge grin on my face as I write this. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My placement year was the best year of my student life. I enjoyed every single minute of it and I absolutely thrived. I met incredible like-minded people, was lucky enough to work with amazing animals and once again had that familiar buzz of being good at something. I extended my internship and managed to get weekend work until I had to return for my final year of uni.
Whilst in my final year, in the middle of my deadlines and exams I received an email informing me of a job opportunity that would be available once I had finished. Long story short, I had a very odd skype interview experience and here I am today: a full-time trainee primate keeper.
I will just wrap this all up by highlighting and stressing that you can never be fully certain as to where you’ll end up. Even those with crystal-clear ideas of their dream career, find themselves on entirely different routes. The thing that is important to remember is that we have a huge amount of control over our pathways thanks to education, degrees, apprenticeships and various opportunities. So, if something makes you feel great and gives you that buzz of excitement, go grab it!
By Katie Loveland (BSc Hons Zoo Biology 2017)- Primate Keeper at Howletts Wild Animal Park & Port Lympne Reserve
You can find out more about Katie by finding her on LinkedIn
Katie is an NTU Alumni Fellow. You can find out more about how to get involved with the Alumni Fellowship Programme here.