11:00AM, Saturday 13 May 2017
About 1,400 animals of 140 species can be found at the Berkshire College of Agriculture’s (BCA) animal management centre, which trains 400 students a year for a broad and thriving job sector.
The centre, in Burchetts Green Road, teaches students the correct way to handle a host of animals including raccoons, otters, poison tree frogs, iguanas, snakes, armadillos and more.
“Everyone loves the meerkats, and the porcupine is everyone’s favourite,” said animal welfare instructor Nick Shelley.
Aside from the occasional snatching of food, Denzel the porcupine happily shares an enclosure with a family of meerkats including mum and dad Marlene and Boycie.
A surprising number of BCA’s animals have either been mistreated at shoddy zoos which have since been shut down or seized from illegal pet owners.
“Boycie was rescued as a house pet. He was kept mainly on a diet of spaghetti bolognese,” said Nick.
“He didn’t really know what he was, he thought he was a human I think.”
John Challis, who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses has learnt of his furry doppelganger and plans to visit him at the college in the near future.
One of the college’s raccoons was rescued after someone attempted to sell it on eBay in the UK.
As well as rescuing animals from bad environments, BCA liaises with organisations across the globe to try and put endangered animals back where they belong.
“Getting animals into the wild is a very long process, it’s very, very particular. We have to know there’s a stable habitat,” said BCA education officer Jenny Hickman.
One of the college’s endangered animals is the cotton top tamarins, which are normally found in Colombia.
“They’re critically endangered at the moment so it’s another animal students can learn about conservation work from,” said Jenny.
Far from only focusing on exotic animals, the college has also helped British environmental
diversity by successfully freeing polecats and red squirrels into the wild.
The college has also joined Amazing Grace, a hedgehog welfare campaign backed by Queen guitarist Brian May.
BCA’s animal management students get taught the correct way to handle and interact with a number of animals, including reptiles, rodents, birds, marsupials and more.
The college’s aim is to give a wide scope of knowledge to students to prepare them for the varied world of animal management careers.
“What we try and do is teach as big a range of stuff as possible,” said Jenny.
“A lot of students come here and think it’s going to be cuddling animals.”
“We really try to give them a realistic view of working with animals.”
Visit www.bca.ac.uk for more information.
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