AN aspiring Pendle vet has used her summer break to take a walk on the wild side after she landed a work placement at Blackpool Zoo.

Rachel Harrison, 17, has been working with giraffes, sea lions, lemurs, aardvarks, tapirs and a range of reptiles and insects at the popular Lancashire zoo and says she has had the time of her life.

Rachel, who is studying for A levels in chemistry, biology, maths and psychology at Nelson and Colne College Sixth Form, said: “It’s been really fun and I have had the opportunity to work really closely with the animals.

“I’ve hand fed them and cleaned out their enclosures and got to see what it would be like to be a vet who works with more exotic animals.

“It has really cememeted for me that being a vet is the right career.”

Feeding rituals at Blackpool Zoo are a big draw and she says feeding the animals in front of a large audience was a little nerve-racking, especially after one close encounter with an over-friendly sea lion.

“I was feeding the sea lions and one came right over to me and sort of sat on me. It was really funny and all the crowd were laughing and taking photographs.

“It’s a bit embarrassing but it was so much fun and I’ll never forget it.”

Hard-working Rachel was lucky to get a place on Blackpool Zoo’s ‘Keeper Academy’ which only takes around 18 students every year.

The academy is a 10-day course for people aged between 15 and 17. Each day, the keepers-in-training study a different exotic animal species and learn about their natural habitat and diet.

These theory sessions run from 10.30am to 3pm each day but then students are expected to carry out over 30 hours of practical experience with a range of zoo animals.

The course has been specially designed for those who wish to pursue a career with animals, whether working as a vet, vet nurse or a zookeeper. Natalie Garrett, head of education at Blackpool Zoo, said: “We have really enjoyed having Rachel here.

“The management and staff at Blackpool Zoo are delighted that young people like Rachel are coming forward and showing an interest in working in conservation as a career.

“It’s one thing loving animals but it’s quite another to work with them day in, day out in all kinds of weather. Rachel has done really well and we wish her all the best in her future studies.”