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Nineteen-year-old Erina local Brooke Barton is a rare species – she loves her job so much she comes in on her days off.

What could inspire such passion? Working with creatures great and small at the Australian Reptile Park.

After more than six months into her role as zoo keeper at the Central Coast wildlife park, having graduated from TAFE NSW Gosford with a Certificate III in Captive Animals, Ms Barton is still enamoured with her job.

“I absolutely love it. The second a shift opens up I take it and I even go in on the weekend when I’m not scheduled, to build my knowledge. It can be chaotic when we’re there for a shift. An extra day out of choice gives me more time to focus on the experience,” Ms Barton said.

“Being around the animals in general is what I love. Once I did the TAFE NSW Certificate III in Captive Animals I took on more responsibilities and went into a higher role, moving into conservation, breeding and working on the animals’ diets. I’m really enjoying working with endangered species and being a part of their breeding program, building the numbers. There are new things happening constantly so I’m always learning.”

Prior to securing employment with the park, Ms Barton had her eyes on a zoo career for several years.

“Four years ago I entered the Reptile Park’s Kids to Keeper program that allows kids to be a keeper for a day per month, through activities such as feeding animals and caring for enclosures. Two years ago I was offered a volunteering position then commenced the captive animals course to really set my career in motion,” she said.

“TAFE NSW definitely opened my eyes to what the industry was about and vastly improved my knowledge. I didn’t know much about the importance of diets and conservation, or hand raising, for example. Not only did it further my understanding of animal husbandry through hands-on training, we did fantastic excursions such as visiting Aussie Ark, an animal preservation project that targets the near-extinct Tasmanian devil.

“Now I volunteer there, providing health checks to and working on the diets of a range of animals. It’s amazing.”

Ms Barton was so keen to pursue her chosen career that she began pursuing it at high school.

“My school offered a TVET course as part of the HSC, a Certificate II in Animal Studies. This was a gateway into the Certificate III in Captive Animals, which you can only get into with prior study or skills. The Cert III covered more of the field I wanted to get into - zoos - rather than the companion or vet industry,” she said.

Her advice to those considering a career in animal care is clear: “Definitely do your Cert III as it gives you the practical knowledge and hands-on experience you need to work in the industry, and it helps you get a foot in the door with employers. It’s incredible. The teachers helped me build the awareness I needed and shared their stories of what it was like to work in the industry, which inspired me even more to follow this path.”

In what little downtime she has, Brooke also volunteers with international women’s charity Day for Girls. She teams up with others to send sanitary items to women in Vanuatu (her father’s homeland) and was recently involved with building a cyclone shelter and church over there. She is excited there is another shelter underway.

Australia’s largest training provider, TAFE NSW offers over 1,200 courses, from certificates to degrees. Many can be studied online via TAFE Digital, when and where it suits students. Visit or call 131 601.