African elephant zoo keeper, Claire Bennett, tells us Claire Bennett, tells us why she loves working with our incredible elephants and the importance of the ensuring the conservation of this species.

My name is Claire Bennett and I’m lucky enough to be part of the Animal Care Team who care for the African elephants at Colchester Zoo. I started working at the zoo in 1994 and have been working with the elephants for almost 20 years now. I have had the privilege to watch the zoo grow and improve throughout the years and be a small part of a very special zoological collection.

Before working with the elephants, I had worked with many different species and had spent several years working on the farm section with shire horses, buffalo, zebra, anoa and goats, to name just a few. This gave me amazing knowledge and experience, setting great foundations in my early career. I remember the day when the zoo manager called me in to his office and asked if I would like to try working with the elephants – since that moment I have never looked back.

Every day, I feel incredibly lucky to get to spend time and share my life with such incredible animals. I try very hard to never take it for granted as every moment with the elephants is so special. I love the fact that we, as keepers, can make a difference to our animals’ lives and get the chance to educate visitors in what we do. Two of our elephants came from a circus many years ago and it has been incredible to watch them grow in confidence and see their trust with us develop over the years.

There isn’t anything I least like doing in my role, but of course it’s very hard having to say goodbye to an animal when they are moving to another collection, but we know it is for the good of the breeding programme and it is very important to be part of that.

Being a zookeeper is very hard work, both physically and mentally, and can take its toll on your body, but the commitment is always worth it. Elephants such as ours are such amazing animals for many different reasons, but the thing that fuelled my passion for working with them is their immense intelligence and the fact that they are not like any other animal in my opinion. After almost 20 years, they never fail to still surprise me with their personalities and their abilities.

Elephant husbandry is constantly improving and evolving as we continue to learn more about these unique creatures. Enclosure design, diets, training and enrichment are constantly expanding, and we strive to do the best for our elephants as well as helping with others too.

We try to use our knowledge to help elephants in the wild as much as we can and have taken part in many research and conservation projects over the years that have really made a difference. If you speak to any zookeeper, you will see instantly just how proud of their job they are – we are no different on the elephant section.

I can’t say I have a favourite elephant; they are all so different and I have different relationships with each of them, much like a friend or family member. Jambo, who we moved on to Valencia once he had matured, will always have a special place in my heart. He was the first elephant I worked with as a youngster, and it was incredible to watch him grow.

If I wasn’t a zookeeper, I’m not sure what I would be doing. I dreamt of doing this job for as long as I can remember and know how lucky I am to have that dream come true!

An elephant’s trunk has between 40 – 60,000 muscles in it!

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