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Tackling Tarantulas and Harnessing Haku

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to Year-in-Industry Students Amy and Maddy

In September of last year (2022), we welcomed fresh-faced Swansea University Zoology students Amy Nash and Madelyn Jones to the Plantasia Tropical Zoo team.  June (2023) marks the end of their ‘Year-in-Industry’ placements.  

Amy and Maddy are going to be greatly missed by the Plantasia Tropical Zoo Team, having not only proven themselves as dedicated workers, but as true teammates.  They will also be missed by their adoring public, many of whom have encountered the students during school visit workshops, zookeeper experiences, crocodile feeds, birthday parties and VIP encounters.  

Below is a whistle-stop tour of their Top-Ten Highlights.

  1. Cheeky Monkeys!

Maddy can be seen here measuring the height required to access the Whip Scorpion enclosure, to determine whether additional steps were needed (they definitely were), and Amy is pictured hanging out with Caesar the Common Marmoset.

Both Amy and Maddy have brought laughter and smiles to every day of their placement!

a person standing in front of an animals enclosure posing for the camera


a girl posing for the camera with a monkey on her shoulder


  1. TV Fame

Clocking in for just another day at work, Amy found herself representing Plantasia Tropical Zoo on TV!

Airing soon : An episode of MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’ will feature Amy and some of our lovely animals!

2 images of a zookeeper being filmed for tv by a film crew

  1. Secret Santa

Christmas sees a selection of British Zoos and Aquariums taking part in a national BIAZA Secret Santa.  Gifts often include zoo merchandise, enrichment toys for the animals, and cleaning equipment (there is a LOT of cleaning to be done at the zoo!).

For Secret Santa 2022, Maddy took on the task of making by hand a swinging hammock, designed with the lemurs of Lake District Wildlife Park in mind.

 We think Maddy’s lemur hammock is a masterpiece and hope the lemurs are enjoying lounging around

3 images of a girl holding a home-made macramé hammock

  1. Blu-Tack Fine Art

The role of a Zookeeper is usually very active and can be physically demanding, however the animal team would all agree that the most demanding days are those spent SITTING DOWN (dun-dun-duuuhhhhh!).  

Office-based tasks for the students have included creating signage such as the “Crimes Against” series, writing blog posts and completing welfare audits to help ensure the best possible care for our animals.

On these occasions, Maddy has used creativity as an outlet, sculpting pieces such as “Ladybug on Leaf” and “It’s Obviously a Sloth”, for other members of staff to discover on the desk in the days following.

Thanks for all of the giggles, Maddy!

5 images of animals made from blu-tack

  1. Maddy Makes It

It’s hard to believe that neither Amy nor Maddy had used so much as a screwdriver prior to their placement at Plantasia Tropical Zoo.  Both are now capable of using tools such as drills and handsaws, and have gained skills in tasks such as plumbing and even carpentry.

We often use Bamboo in our enclosures, creating shelving, decoration and enrichment ‘toys’ from this amazing material.  Maddy has really got the hang of making the most of the materials around us to enrich the lives of our animals.

2 images of a girl in a garage using power tools

  1. Amy the Lumberjack

On a rainy day in January, Amy was called upon to assist with the gathering of branches for the re-development of the Asian Leopard Cat enclosure.  

Bribed with a Costa coffee and armed with handsaws, Amy the lumberjack selected, chopped, collected and loaded up branches as long as 16ft, which were then brought back to base and fitted in the cat enclosure.

Asian Leopard Cats enjoy jumping, climbing, scratching and investigating, and the enclosure is designed to allow for as much of this natural behaviour as possible, providing enrichment to the lives of these charismatic kitties.

An image of a girl sawing wood for an animal enclosure, next to the finished article

  1. Splish! Splash!

Plantasia Tropical Zoo is home to five yellow-bellied terrapin, one red-eared terrapin, and a large group of koi carp and goldfish.

Our pond requires routine maintenance, from daily work in the plant room to catching turtles every month for health/weight checks.  Keeper staff often end up a bit damp after spending time in the pond, but Amy and Maddy managed to keep their signature smiles as they donned waders to top-up the beach sand on Turtle Island.

2 images of 2 zookeepers in waders standing in a pond, looking to camera

  1. Tackling Tarantulas

Halloween 2022 saw both students facing their fear of spiders.  Amy in particular began the year-in-industry placement with fairly severe arachnophobia.

‘Daisy’ is Zookeeper Lucy’s pet Chilean Rose Tarantula and is often described as being ‘basically a fluffy pet rock’.  Amy and Maddy both faced their fear to hold Daisy – an unforgettable experience with fantastic photographic evidence!

2 images of girls dressed in Halloween costumes holding a tarantula

  1. Cwtches with Clyde

Having a ‘cwtch’ with 13ft Burmese Python ‘Clyde’ is seen as a right-of-passage for students and staff alike at Plantasia Tropical Zoo.  Both Amy and Maddy handled the 11kg snake expertly, under close supervision of Zoo & Education Manager Mike and Zoo & Education Officers Lucy and Cath.

2 girl zookeepers holding a large python


  1. Harnessing Haku

Wearing her little pink harness, Asian Water Monitor “Haku” might look pretty innocent, however the 9kg lizard is strong, nosey, and very determined!

Amy and Maddy have both learned about safe handling of large reptiles during their placement, and are now confident in catching and boxing Haku, popping on her harness and taking her for a walk.  The change of scenery lets Haku sniff out new, interesting scents and is therefore an excellent form of enrichment.

2 images of zookeepers holding a water monitor

Two zookeepers taking the Asian Water Monitor for a walk on a pink lead and harness in a tropical zoo

Thank you to Amy and Maddy for all of your hard work and best of luck in your studies and all adventures to follow!

Written by Lucy: Zoo and Education Officer at Plantasia Tropical Zoo

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