A NEW North zoo opens its doors to the public tomorrow – but it’s more than just a public attraction.
For Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens is also a hands-on learning curve for students at the adjacent college.
Around 10 of the 30 students on agricultural courses at Northumberland College’s campus near Ponteland will work voluntarily with the 100-plus animals on show to further their education and knowledge of the animal kingdom.
They will also act as hosts as well as keepers when the mini-zoo opens for the first time tomorrow morning.
Full-time animal keeper Rachel Chapman, herself a former Kirkley Hall student, said: “It was built by the students for the public, and it’s for the benefit of both.
“There are four relief keepers and half a dozen hosts from the students and they are happy to work voluntary extra hours doing what they love.
“This will give them background experience as well as build their confidence with animals when they get qualifications.”
As the only zoo between Edinburgh and Yorkshire, it will also be a novel attraction for the North East public.
Enclosure animals include meerkats, wallabies, emus, alpacas, pygmy goats and lemurs.
There are also eagle owls, lizards, snakes, chipmunks, marmosets and aquatics.
Qualified keepers will also be on hand to talk to visitors and answer questions about the animals
For children there is also a small funfair – and for the hungry and thirsty, there’s a cafe/bar plus a souvenir shop.
For Rachel, working with animals is a genuine labour of love and she says: “Every morning I get up I look forward to coming here.
“I’ve worked here full-time for four years and the passion I feel for this work is what I see in the students now.
“Now we hope we will pass that on to the public who come to visit us.”
The finishing touches are being put to the zoo today following Monday’s official launch by Countryside TV presenter Adam Henson (pictured). He said: “This will provide an excellent learning environment for the animal management and horticulture students.
Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens is open to the public from May to September 9am to 5pm, and from October to April 9am to 4pm.
Adult admission is £5, children £3.50, and family tickets (two adults, three children) are £15.