Amanda Gott has revealed what it is like to be in charge of a tropical rainforest in the heart of Lanarkshire.
The Yorkshire native knew she wanted to work with animals from an early age and six years ago she was appointed manager of Amazonia in Strathclyde Park.
She said: “From the moment I could talk I knew I wanted to work with animals; when I was nine or 10, I decided this would mean working in a zoo.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors and when I was 12 I volunteered at a bird garden near where we lived. We weren’t far from Leeds and would often go to its tropical house there.
“When I was maybe 13 or 14 I found out more about what was involved in becoming a zookeeper. I was told I needed an A level in biology and possibly a degree which scared me a little as I was kind of average.
“I did my GCSEs and then left to go to college to do animal care as a two-year national diploma and from there I did go to university to do a zoology degree.
“You can study zoology all over the UK. I was meant to go to Lincolnshire, but I wasn’t keen on the area so I went to Bangor and loved it.”
However, Amanda was less keen with her first year of studies.
She said: “There was a lot of science, which we had to pass to move onto later years when we could specialise.
“A lot of people had done science at A level, but my college course was a lot more hands-on with animals so I struggled, but I managed to get through it – although I still hate chemistry!
“The best thing was we were just half an hour from the Welsh Mountain Zoo so I volunteered there for two years, which was almost a full-time job.”
When it came to getting a full-time job, it didn’t prove quite so easy for Amanda.
She said: “I wrote to about 100 places to see if there was a position but, with students from all over the country doing the same, I heard nothing for about a year and ended up working in a supermarket.
“The zoo industry is very competitive so it’s all about getting your foot in the door and I finally did with a company called Zoolab, based out of Falkirk.
“I came up for training and went home with about 13 different animals, scorpions, tarantulas, all sorts of things.
“I was at a different school every day for two and half years. I wasn’t keen on public speaking at school and at college would have been the last person to get up in front of a crowd, but talking to the kids every day really built up my confidence – now I think nothing of it.”
Amanda went on to become an educational officer at Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire and Birdworld in Surrey before seeing the manager’s job at Amazonia advertised online.
She said: “I didn’t know there was an indoor rainforest at Strathclyde Park. I was working near London at the time and wanted to move north to be nearer my family, so I decided to go for it.
“I’d done a lot off both office and keeper work, so I was confident I had the knowledge and skills to do it.
“I volunteered to work with orangutans in an Indonesian rainforest and I loved that environment.
“The thought of taking on responsibility for a rainforest in Scotland seemed crazy at the time but, six years on, it feels like the most natural thing now.”
Since taking charge, Amanda has been keen to ensure that Amazonia better reflects the flora and fauna found in the Amazon.
She said: “We are trying to replicate the Amazon rainforest but when I arrived it didn’t really have a plan for working to that theme.
“My main aim was to start theming the whole collection; at the time only about 50 per cent was native to the Amazon so I had to start looking years ahead.
“Now we are about 85 per cent there; being a small zoo we have to be picky, but we’re getting there.”
Among Amanda’s favourites are the kinkajous, the poison dart frogs and the leaf-cutter ants.
She added: “I’m pretty hands-on. I have hand reared a couple of kinkajous who see me as mum so they are very close to my heart.
“We’ve bred a lot of poison dart frogs; the tadpoles are cannibalistic so I had to keep them separate in little cups.
“I also kept a colony of leaf-cutter ants in my shed and I loved watching them – my neighbours never know what I’ll turn up with next!
“I love my job. I love being in the zoo every day and there isn’t a day I don’t want to come into work so I feel very lucky.”
The idea of Amazonia came about when the directors of M&D’s were looking for an educational addition to the theme park. When the opportunity of an indoor tropical rainforest arose, it fitted their vision perfectly.
Opened in October 2005, Amazonia is Scotland’s only indoor tropical rainforest and houses a collection of Amazonian flora and fauna, as well as a number of rare species native to the Amazon.
Amazonia re-creates the temperature of the Amazon and visitors can witness a range of creatures and listen to educational talks delivered by the attraction’s staff.
Visitors can experience a wide range of creatures including boas and pythons, marmosets – the smallest species of monkey in the world – frogs, tarantulas, giant cockroaches, geckos, free flying butterflies and Amazonian parrots.
In February, Amazonia was awarded a bronze Green Tourism Award for the first time after being commended for its education programme and green practices, including its recycling policies, composting and native conservation work.
Now it it working towards a silver Green Tourism Award with half the daily bins going to recycling, toilet flush savers, switching from plastic tickets and bags to paper, collecting waste produce from Sainsbury’s, rainwater collection barrels, a ‘Go Green’ notice board to show the work being done and ‘Go Green’ tips around the building.
Sam Haworth, education officer, said: “Taking care of our planet and engaging with the natural world is something I’m very passionate about.
“I am very grateful to have the opportunity to guide my work place through the award and to set an example and inspire others.”