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Paignton Zoo staff celebrate Christmas Day with the animals

By Herald Express  |  Posted: December 27, 2012

WORK TO BE DONE: Mammal keeper Dave Rich, one of the zoo keepers who worked on Christmas Day

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CHRISTMAS Day is the one day of the year when Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts are closed to the public – but the work of caring for the animals never stops.

Keepers were on duty for much of Christmas Day, starting work as early as 7am on Christmas morning and continuing on and off throughout the day until around 5pm.

There were nine mammal keepers, eight bird keepers and two reptile keepers on duty for all or part of Christmas Day at Paignton Zoo.

Meanwhile, at Living Coasts there were four keepers looking after the aquarium species, birds and mammals and checking on the complex water filtration system.

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Vet nurse Celine Campana was looking after any inpatients in Paignton Zoo's purpose-built Vet Centre and she and Head of Veterinary Services Ghislaine Sayers were on call in case of emergencies.

Much of the food for the animals was prepared on Christmas Eve and enclosure cleaning on the big day was kept to a minimum.

Pete Smallbones, Senior Head Keeper of Birds, said: "Working through Christmas is something I've had to do all my adult life, so it's never been a big deal — though now I have a young family. I've worked the last two Christmas Days. The Zoo being empty is nice, but you usually are too busy to appreciate it.

"When I was younger the hardest part was maybe not staying out too late on too many nights with friends. Now I have children it would be nice to have every Christmas off with them."

Matthew Webb, now Senior Head Keeper of Mammals at Paignton Zoo, remembers a past Christmas at another zoo: "At Christmas 2006 there was deep snow. I rode my motorbike into work — a 20 minute ride took me 1 hour 30 minutes! I fell off just as I got into work, but I carried on because the animals needed looking after and others couldn't make it as they were snowed in."

Living Coasts keeper Madeleine Millin said: "It's nice to be with the animals on Christmas Day – it's special. And you have the whole family thing to look forward to afterwards."

Winter is a tough time to be a zoo keeper, as the care, feeding and mucking-out of livestock goes on regardless, even when it's freezing cold outside.

Some older keepers remember past winters when they had to row around Paignton Zoo's lake to break up the ice.

Both Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts are open on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, so retail, catering and front of house staff will all be at work.

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