PLAYING with a pride of lions or escorting man-eating tigers is all in a day’s work for slightly-built Emma Jane.
The animal ranger employed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Park took up her new post, just as the first of 13 rescued Romanian lions moved in last year.
Former Dearne High School pupil Emma, 22, beat scores of applicants for a coveted job at the Branton attraction, and is excited by the latest additions... Amur leopards and marmoset monkeys, that are in situ but are not yet viewable by the public.
Most recently, the Thurnscoe lass travelled down to Howlett’s wildlife park in Kent, to relocate Sayan – an Amur or Siberian Tiger from the park where three keepers were mauled to death after entering the tiger compound.
Syan was sedated and crated for her lorry journey north, and has settled in well to her new South Yorkshire home – complete with prowling compound that includes a large waterfall!
She has not yet been introduced to her planned mate, Vladimir.
The two were matched up for the Amur Tiger European Breeding Programme.
This summer, the attractions at the Yorkshire park include Land of the Tiger, and a South American walk-through, with creatures such as monkeys, agouti, capybara, meerkats, wallabies and birds of prey.
Emma said: “It’s great here – in 15 months I’ve not had one bad moment. I was paired with another ranger for a week then I was out on my own, although with lots of support should I need it”.
She says her favourite activities are those of “enrichment”, which entail stimulating the animals by playing with them to keep them alert and interested.
So although she stays well clear of the big cats, she can be seen hurling blood-ice blocks to them, or hessian sacks of sheep wool. Even footballs go in, although they don’t last five minutes!
When we spoke, she had just helped to catch and sedate a guanako (a kind of llama), who was about to be castrated to calm him down after repeated attacks on a young calf.
And part of her job involves talking to visitors and school parties, while handling reptiles, parrots and ferrets for demonstrations.
It was in the final year of her sports degree that Emma knew she had to change course to work with animals. She finished her degree but that same year gained valuable experience at Sheprith, a Hertfordshire animal park.
Emma attended her YWP interview armed with masses of information from hours of self-study.
She confessed: “The only downside of working with animals is the pain when you lose them – you get so attached. The animals are like my big extended family”.
But there is still something missing for Emma at the park....
She admitted: “I’d love to have apes here. It’s my ambition to work with them.
“They’re amazing – so intelligent and so like us. The primates we have here currently are lemurs, marmosets and squirrel monkeys.”
Appealing animal babies are all around the park at this time of year... a young camel, little Joeys peeping from wallaby pouches, and the newest arrivals on my visit – two day old guanacos.
Before Emma’s day ends at around 6pm, she ensures all chickens and flamingos are put away, to protect them from predators. The lemurs have their own winter heated house.
She is one of 10 park rangers, and says: “I can’t imagine ever leaving... I love the work and everything about it.”