A zoo manager has celebrated 30 years of working with animals at the award-winning Drusillas Park.
Sue Woodgate started working at the Alfriston attraction as a 16-year-old junior keeper but three decades later she is in charge of the ten-acre wildlife park.
She started at Drusillas after a serious riding accident put pay to her dream of a career with horses but, as she explained, the zoo was a very different place at the time.
“We had fewer animals but there were just three of us to look after them – the curator, the head keeper and myself,” she revealed.
“Most of my day consisted of mucking out. By comparison, today we have ten zoo keepers working at any one time.”
Over the next few years Sue worked her way up through the ranks and when the zoo changed hands in 1997 the new owners offered her the role of zoo curator. The title changed to a more modern one of zoo and education manager in 2004, overseeing all aspects of animal welfare, conservation, and species management.
“Thirty years seems a very long time and a lot of the keepers take great delight in reminding me that they weren’t even born when I began,” she said.
“One question I regularly get asked is are there any animals still here that were here when I started and it may surprise you to know that there are; some of our flamingos arrived at Drusillas around the same time as I did. Flamingos are very long lived birds and can live for over 50 years. Who knows, at this rate I could even celebrate a golden anniversary with them at Drusillas.”
Sue’s role today is a far cry from the one she had in the early days. However, despite her official title, Sue is more than happy to throw on a pair of wellies and muck in when required and enjoys nothing more than working in close proximity to the animals and keepers
Despite her long career at Drusillas, Sue remains as enthusiastic about her work today as she has ever been.
“I still really enjoy the diversity of my role; one day I could be talking to another collection abroad about importing one of their animals to Drusillas, the next day I could be helping our marketing department coming up with ideas for our social media platforms.”