Crow reporter turns her hand to conservation with a lesson or two at Shepreth Wildlife Park

From left to right: Jenny Sutton, Hayley Peacock, Ale Dimedo, Becky Morley and Rebecca Willers.

From left to right: Jenny Sutton, Hayley Peacock, Ale Dimedo, Becky Morley and Rebecca Willers. - Credit: Archant

With I’m a Celebrity back on our screens, it seemed like a timely excuse to take part in a bushtucker trial... but rather than travel Down Under, all I had to do was pop along to Shepreth Wildlife Park.

Jen Simonson and Rebecca Willers in Bug City.

Jen Simonson and Rebecca Willers in Bug City. - Credit: Archant

First up was a date with the meerkats. Cuddly? Not quite – events manager Jen Simonson calmly informed me that the cute critters made famous by a series of online insurance adverts happily rip scorpions apart in their natural desert home.

Next on the agenda was some skunk snuggling, which made me pause for thought at the threat of their infamous pong.

Crow reporter Rebecca hangs out with the meerkats.

Crow reporter Rebecca hangs out with the meerkats. - Credit: Archant

But it turned out to be a comforting cuddle, especially as Jen reassured me the famously malodorous mammals only omit their spray if they feel threatened.

Last on the bill was a master class in otter training – pole and clicker in hand I tried to navigate my way through the instructions as the otters obediently clung on to the end of the stick in return for tasty mussel and swordfish treats.

Feeding the otters.

Feeding the otters. - Credit: Archant

It is teaching novices such as myself how to bond with and care for animals that gives Jen a reason to get out of bed every morning.

She said: “I love my job. I never know what to expect in a day in the most wonderful way possible.

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“I like that adventure of life. I get to do both the animal side of things and teach people.

“If at the end of the day I have changed someone’s mind about the environment and how to look after animals then I’ve done my job.”

Shepreth Wildlife Park began as a private wildlife animal sanctuary in 1979 in the grounds of Terry Willers’ home, when a young injured jackdaw was brought to the family to look after.

After slowly adopting more and more animals, Terry decided to open up the family home to the public, and now the site operates as a rescue centre, wildlife park, educational facility and hedgehog hospital.

In 2011, a charity was launched to assist with worldwide conservation initiatives by Terry’s daughter and park director Rebecca Willers, who has since ventured to the Sumatran jungle in search of poachers.

She said: “I used to work here at the weekends when I was at school.

“Dad has a mantra that everyone mucks in. I am passionate about tigers and wanted to incorporate conservation projects into the work we do.”

The hedgehog hospital is calling on volunteers to help out, as well as anyone who may be able to donate old equipment, vet vouchers or cat food. Call 01763 262226 to find out more.

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