Menagerie at college helps students learn animal care

The animal care department at New College Stamford. A chameleon.''Photo: David Pearson EMN-150509-130221001
The animal care department at New College Stamford. A chameleon.''Photo: David Pearson EMN-150509-130221001
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It’s one of the most requested stops on the tour for visitors to New College Stamford, and it’s easy to see why the animal care department has more than 150 students studying at various levels

Whether you prefer the cute, furry side of the animal kingdom or lean more towards scales and spines, the large area of the college in Drift Road, Stamford, offers enough to set teenagers on the path to working with a variety of species.

The Mercury was given a tour of the department by senior technician Jes Mavica. Although she has only been in the job for a few months she clearly knows the animals well, handling them all with care and responding to their various needs. She works with another technician and five lecturers to help the college offer full diploma courses in animal care and management.

“You can get experience with a huge variety of things,” said Jes. “The most important thing with having a lot of species is that somewhere you will be interested in one of them. You will then be driven to find out more and learn new things about that species.”

Variety is the key word, with several different rooms and an outdoor space with pens and aviaries housing all sorts of animals. There’s the heated reptile and amphibian room, with bearded dragons basking on their rocks, vivid tree frogs hopping around their tanks and a wise old chameleon showing incredible colours - plus, of course, the live insects and mealworms that students use to feed them.

There’s the domestics room, with familiar animals such as rats and gerbils, where students learn husbandry and DNA testing. Nothing too unusual here, until you go into the room for nocturnal rodents and hear the distinctive and other-worldly squeaks of the six sugar gliders, which bear similarities to flying squirrels with webbing between their fore and hind legs.

Moving outside causes some commotion in the meerkat pen, with a family of adults and babies all rushing out to take a look at their latest visitor. Next door a pair of marmoset siblings peer inquisitively from their enclosure while two ferrets scurry up and down tunnels and pipes. Huge rabbits, the size of a small dog, add to the cuteness while several tortoises amble around their pen. And there are the African grey parrots, which have successfully incorporated the beeps of the nearby construction site into their vocabularies.

Finally there is the axolotl, a comical but extremely endangered relation to the salamander which remains in the larval stage even in adulthood.

The department, which has now been open eight years, also has close links with Chater Valley Farm near Pilton, in Rutland, so students can work with larger animals that the college does not have room for such as horses.

“The farm does have a massive impact,” said Jes. “We don’t have the room to be able to have those animals.”

Lecturer and course co-ordinator Emma Fincham helped design the department as it moved into bigger and more suitable rooms. She said: “We have an excellent collection here. The variety of species we have, the opportunity it gives the students and the way that we incorporate the facilities we have enables them to thrive and allows the students the opportunity to develop their practical experience and ability. It’s that which is vital.

“It’s a transferable skill set and it develops responsibility.”

To find out more about the animal care and management courses visit www.stamford.ac.uk