Ask a young child what they want to be when they grow up, and the chances are that “zookeeper” features high on a lot of lists.
Now Dundee and Angus College is hoping to make that dream a reality for more young people, with the help of Camperdown Country Park.
Next year, the college will launch a zoo animal behaviour and welfare course, the first of its kind in the country.
The six-month course will involve 15 bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students spending one day a week as trainee zookeepers at Camperdown while studying the different behaviours of animals in the wild and in captivity.
Before the course gets under way, the Tele visited Camperdown Wildlife Centre to see what students can expect.
We entered the enclosure of two red-bellied lemurs, a nocturnal species from Madagascar. It is one of 18 threatened species living there.
The first thing that hits you is the smell. The lemurs mark their territory using scent glands on their heads and bottoms.
Every day, they are fed a balanced diet of sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips.
They are shy at first but start to warm to the idea of having visitors.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature says the species is at high risk of extinction because humans are destroying its natural forest habitat through illegal logging and slash and burn farming methods.
There are thought to be as few as 10,000 red-bellied lemurs left in the wild and Chris Ditchburn, course leader for animal care at Dundee and Angus College, said the new course will be vital for these animals.
“You can’t just go and Google how to look after a lemur,” he said.
“The research that the students do will feed into the practice of zoos around the world.
“You can’t conserve animals if you can’t care for them.
“Students will look at animals in the zoo and research behaviours, as they exist in the wild.
“They will also look at how the behaviours are different in captivity.”
The level six course will run from January until May and, within a day of the course being opened to the public, it already had more applicants than places.
The college is hoping the success of the course will lead to it being run twice next year.
Wildlife centre manager Aileen Whitelaw said: “This is a way to get as many young people as possible to learn about the environment and the issues associated with it.
“The course is one of a kind and will hopefully open up zookeeping as a career for more people.”
One-third of the 55 species living in Camperdown are likely to become endangered in the future.
The students on the new course will regularly visit these creatures and observe their activity in the wildlife centre.
Chris added: “The students will work alongside keepers in the park and will have access to any of the animals in the zoo for one day a week.
“We want the learners to make a documentary or video diary of animal behaviour.”
The course is the only one in the UK where students as young as 16 can learn what makes zoo animals tick.
Bradley Yule, conservation network manager at the wildlife centre, said: “Conservation is the core objective at Camperdown.
“Our efforts play an important part in collectively managing conservation projects that help to protect threatened species and habitats both locally and globally.”