Danielle Farah

My career path so far

I did my placement year with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in South Africa and after my finals I returned for three months to help facilitate the new African penguin chick rearing unit. 

I later got a maternity cover position as a trainee Animal Keeper at Marwell Zoo in Winchester. Initially, the sections we worked on were mostly mixed species, but after a few months the sections changed to taxonomic and I was transferred to the birds section. I later got a permanent position on the primates and small mammals section, and after a while I was being trained once a week with carnivores so I could help out if they needed it.

Whilst I was at Marwell, the eighth International Penguin Congress took place in Bristol. This is where I met my next employer, the Curator of Penguins at Ski Dubai. Five months later I was working in Dubai as a Penguin Trainer with King and Gentoo penguins. This was one of the best experiences of my life, and I still miss it now.  

After over a year of working there, I saw an advertisement for the job that I am currently working now, Head Penguin Keeper at Bournemouth Aquarium. I wasn’t particularly looking to leave Ski Dubai but I always think it is good to keep an eye out for potential opportunities. Bournemouth Oceanarium had built a brand new penguin exhibit after spending five years planning it. After contacting the curator I discovered that they were only looking to employ one person to facilitate this. For me, it was a blank canvas, and still is in many ways. I have been working here with a colony of Humboldt penguins since then.

The two most exciting parts of my career to date have been working in South Africa rehabilitating wild African seabirds and working in Dubai with King and Gentoo penguins. These two experiences are definitely at the top of the excitement list. Each experience has presented me with new challenges, new cultures, meaningful work, amazing animals, and lots of incredible people.

Getty king penguin

Any advice?

It can be quite difficult to get an animal-related occupation, especially in the beginning. Volunteer in as many places as possible while you have the opportunity – this always shows well to potential employers and means that you are regarded much higher than someone who has the same qualifications as you but with no practical experience.
Plymouth is a great location for volunteering in different places; Paignton and Dartmoor Zoo are relatively close, the National Marine Aquarium (biggest aquarium in the UK) is within walking distance from the University campus, and there are a couple of farms around.
In my second year, I also chose ‘work-based learning’ as one of my modules. You get to find a facility to volunteer at for a certain number of hours and do a project while you are there. I went to Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and continued to volunteer there for approximately nine months as an Owl Handler, handling many different owl species and training one of their Barn owls to fly for displays.

Course highlights? 

One of the best aspects of studying at Plymouth was the fact that you can do a placement year as part of your degree. When you do a placement project it is a great opportunity to collect data for your dissertation, and you are assisted financially rather having to fund everything yourself – it is a great help.
I went to South Africa for seven months and worked at a seabird rehabilitation centre - Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). Words cannot describe how much I learnt and how much practical experience I gained. At one point, during my time there, around five hundred African penguin chicks were brought to the centre for rehabilitation. That was a lot of hand rearing. 
One of the lecturers, Dr Sarah Collins, even came to visit to see how everything was going. Here, I also collected and sorted data for my dissertation, and with Sarah’s help, the findings of the research have now been published in a scientific journal.
The Iberian wolf (Canis lupus subsp. signatus Cabrera) is a near-threatened subspecies of the grey wolf found in Portugal and Spain. Image courtesy of Shutterstock