Keeper exchange

Keeper Exchange

During the awareness tour in 2004, our VIPs visited Twycross Zoo where they gave a presentation of the work being carried out in Sabah to save the orangutans. Dr Sen was very complimentary about the standards of care provided to the apes in the zoo’s care and the Appeal began investigating the possibility of a “Keeper Exchange Programme” between Twycross and Sepilok – this was to be yet another “first”!

The general opinion was that both sides would benefit and learn a great deal from such an exchange; and practices such as “environment enrichment”, which Twycross take very seriously, could only be beneficial for the youngsters during their rehabilitation. Likewise, Twycross keepers have never before experienced the care and practices required for the rehabilitation process and preparing the individuals for a life in the wild.

Arrangements were made and in September 2005 the first leg of the exchange took place when Julie Dalley, Twycross’ Chief Orangutan Keeper, and Rachel Sellers, Twycross’ Chimpanzee Keeper, arrived in Sabah very excited and keen to start on an experience of a life time!

Julie and Rachel’s first introduction to our orphaned orangutans was to be at the Shangri-la Rasa Ria hotel’s Nature Interpretation Centre, just outside Kota Kinabalu. Here, they spent their first two days learning how to care and handle the babies, something that they never have the chance to do back home! On their third morning, they got the surprise of their life when they received a VIP invitation to visit the new Kota Kinabalu Zoo which was reaching its final stages of construction and still not open to the public. Julie and Rachel were thrilled and, after having been shown round, commented that they were very impressed indeed with the enclosures and facilities which were to a very high standard, and thought that the hospital and clinic were exceptional.

But this was not the last surprise the girls were to have as the next morning they found they had a full press conference to attend with every newspaper in Kota Kinabalu clambering to hear their every word. “Scary” said Rachel!!

The following two weeks were spent at Sepilok working alongside the rangers and the girls both agreed that it was an amazing experience which taught them a great deal.
In return, Rachel and Julie were able to pass on useful information on the care of captive individuals and how this could be improved.

The second stage of the exchange was to come as a shock to Senior Ranger Elis Tambing and Ranger Addie Jomali when they were informed in July that they had been chosen to go to the UK and experience life in one of the UK’s top zoos. Initial reactions were a mixture of excitement and trepidation, bearing in mind the British weather in November!

keeper-exchange-2.jpgOn arrival in the UK, Elis was overwhelmed by the vast size of Heathrow airport and how crowded it was.

Their first few days were spent in Surrey which both Elis and Addie loved. They raved about the beauty of the area and the size of the houses and were especially interested when Sue took them walking on Bookham Common where they became very excited about the hundreds of unfamiliar trees and plants.

It was soon time to start work and their first duty was to accompany Dr Sen and Sue to Manchester to give a presentation on “The Journey to Freedom”. They both agreed that this was a great success and never realized how interested people were in their work which needless to say delighted them.

The next morning they went by train to Twycross where they were met and taken to the zoo. A warm reception awaited them and after lunch they settled into the staff quarters before the press arrived to interview them.

Next morning, they were introduced to their duties by Julie and Rachel who explained that a typical working day started at 8am and ends at 5pm – somewhat longer than the Sabah working day! Elis was delighted when he found his first day was to be spent with the chimpanzees. His first task was very ordinary - he was handed a broom and joined the team of workers sweeping and cleaning the huge daytime exercise enclosure. It was then time to prepare breakfast and hand it out to their charges who tucked into it with relish.

keeper-exchange-3.jpgAfter lunch there was more sweeping, washing, cleaning and food preparation, similar to that of the work at Sepilok.

During the coming days, the two rangers took turns working with the orangutans, gorillas, chimps and elephants and all the while they were learning. Learning about how to make their charges life more interesting, how to minimize the spread of infection, how to manage the staff, how to produce work schedules and rotas, all of which the rangers felt was invaluable.

Upon their return home, they started to implement changes from the things they had learnt and the Director of Wildlife for Sabah was so impressed he has asked the Appeal to find experienced keepers who would be interested in 3 to 6 month placements in the new zoo in Kota Kinabalu!

We believe the orangutans have definitely benefited from this exercise!!