My career has allowed me to travel around the world and led me to meet my now husband - we met because of a polar bear!
More about Sarah
NTU alum Sarah currently tackles important animal welfare issues in her role as Animal Welfare Field Manager at Wild Welfare. We spoke to Sarah about her exciting career and her NTU memories.
Q: Why did you decide to study at Nottingham Trent University (NTU)…
A: I attended an open day and I was impressed by the facilities, accommodation and one of the Principal Lecturers. He explained that he saw one sheep in three years during his own studies at another university, but NTU would offer a very different experience with lots of hands-on animal encounters. I fell in love with the Brackenhurst campus - the thought of moving there wasn’t intimidating or daunting. Everything just seemed to fit and feel right.
Q: Looking back on your time at NTU, what makes you smile?
A: Firstly, all the crazy shenanigans I got up to with a great bunch of people. From traffic cone fencing to pyjama poker and nights out at the Pit and Pendulum – it was so fun. Secondly, is how I would feel during the lectures. I would get so excited about where this knowledge might take me that I got addicted to that feeling of impassioned zeal! Learning about animals has always done that to me, and I suspect it always will.
Q: Tell us about your current role…
A: My days used to be filled with animals and wild places, nowadays I’m more often sat at my computer but still doing work that I love. I do a lot of strategising, facilitating action and pushing forward projects. However, if I’m out in the field (usually Asia) my day might involve hosting training workshops with animal care staff, conducting welfare audits or meeting with potential partners to decide a collaborative course of action.
Q: What motivated you to work in the field of animal welfare?
A: When visiting zoos and sanctuaries abroad, I witnessed prevalent animal welfare issues. I remember thinking, “I have to do something because this is the harsh reality and it’s not ok”. I worked at a in Vietnam facility for 3 months in and realised that changes could be made with the right approach and mind-set. When the opportunity came up to work in this field, I jumped at it. I miss practical zookeeping, but I know I’m making a much bigger difference - that keeps me going.
Q: What do you find challenging?
A: I have ophidiophobia, which is an intense aversion to snakes – very strange for someone who works with animals, I know! Despite all the therapy, handling sessions and research, my phobia is here to stay. I travel to countries which have a high prevalence of wild snakes (in fact last time I was in Vietnam we had a close call with a venomous white lipped tree viper!), and I often have to assess the welfare of captive snakes. It’s my love of animals, the mission of the charity and my determination that keeps me going. Thankfully my team are incredibly understanding and encouraging.
Seeing animals who are suffering can feel very upsetting and frustrating, particularly if I can’t immediately do anything to change it. Finding the strength to carry on, the patience to know that making changes take time, and the tolerance to not immediately react in anger is tough.
Q: What have been the highlights of your career so far?
A: My first job out of university was a wildlife guide on a whale watching boat. I was paid to point at whales and dolphins - you just can’t get much better than that really. My career has allowed me to travel around the world and led me to meet my now husband - we met because of a polar bear!
During my zookeeping days I had a special bond with Romulus the guinea baboon. He was stunning and loved nothing more than sunning himself in the morning whilst the youngsters groomed his toes - he was sadly epileptic. It was a joy to care for him and his troop. I hand-reared a white stork chick called Polo after his parents rejected him at 3 weeks old. It was a steep learning curve, but very rewarding to watch him grow and progress. He is now a stud bird for the UK breed and release programme which makes me very proud.
I could speak about each individual that I have worked with, but it would take too long so here’s some highlights:
- When a nervous chameleon finally strike feeds from you.
- The anteater you work with forward rolls into his bed and it’s hilarious.
- The baby lemur you’ve been caring for starts riding around on her mums back…backwards!
- Helping to carry a sedated tiger into her dentist appointment and she nearly wakes up.
- Getting a daily kiss from a wallaby - the entire mob of 40 wallabies helped me through a difficult time in my life.
- Waking up your armadillos and they’re all bleary-eyed and sleepy.
- Getting a minute to just stand, admire and talk to your animals - it soothes your soul.
In my current role, the highlights are often people-based. Watching people take away knowledge, enthusiasm and excitement for animal care is incredibly rewarding, especially when you know that it will have a positive impact on the animals under their care. Getting feedback confirming this is always wonderful, such as when I receive comments from those that have utilised the online learning programme I helped to create. It’s been used in over 50 countries, which I still find amazing!
Q: So, what’s next?
A: I’m starting to think that my role with Wild Welfare might be my forever job! For years I was always looking to the next challenge and opportunity, but I feel very settled in this role. Working in welfare reform is a very long-term challenge, but it’s one I feel surprisingly suited to (despite the phobia). It feels like it has the potential to be my future as well as my present.
Follow Sarah on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-bonser-blake-658949149/
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