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News / City Life

Quit your job, become a... lion keeper

Teague Stubbington, 40, mammal keeper at London Zoo

Why would you work with something that could tear your head off?

‘The only time I’ve ever been bitten was by my hamster as a child. Lions are dangerous animals, but we work with them as professionals, so I don’t ever feel worried. Our new exhibit, “Land of the Lions”, is all about how the Asian lions live with people in India. The community there lives very close to the lions and is proud to have them as part of their community.’

Risks aside, is it easy to get this job?

‘It can be very difficult. I did a degree in Zoology and once I’d done that I basically packed one bag of clothes and came up to London determined to work at the zoo. I couch-surfed for nine months whilst I made myself as useful as I could to the zoo by volunteering and applied for every keeper job going.’

What does the job involve?

‘We’re mainly working with the lions at the moment, so we start by giving them breakfast and cleaning the paddock. It’s important that they keep active, so we’ll lay scent trails, give them toys to fight with or tie their food to a special big-cat bungee cord, so when they grab the food it pulls back and they experience taking prey down. We spend a bit of time with each lion, but not too much because it’s important that they spend most of their day being lions.'

What's the best thing about being keeper of the big cats?

‘There are so many. It’s like being a little boy coming into work every day. In the 20 years I’ve been here, I’m genuinely still excited. I’m one of those irritating people who can’t wait to come back after a holiday.’

What about the disgusting bits?

‘There’s quite a few, but being peed on and spat at by a camel was particularly unpleasant. That was when I was a young keeper standing in the wrong spot. I wasn’t looking when she peed on me, so I jumped and shouted, and then she spat on me. Normally we have a great relationship.’

Hours: 37.5p/w

Starting salary: £21,000 p/a

Qualifications: Diploma in the management of zoo and aquarium animals

Or why not become a cheese maker?

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