Bringing the Zoo to You!

Tara Cullen from National Reptile Zoo with Aaron Henderson, Shane Neary, Sadie Boardman.
Photo by Shelley Corcoran;

We have worked with the National Reptile Zoo for a number of years now in delivering outreach to Midlands schools during Science Week. Recently, we spoke to Tara Cullen who facilitated a number of workshops for us this year, to find out more about the work of the National Reptile Zoo and how it helps to teach young children about just how much science and nature is all around us..

Tara, can you tell us what you do as regards outreach?

The National Reptile Zoo’s mission statement revolves around three main areas: conservation, education and exploration. We want to inspire people and ignite an interest in the natural world, and in particular reptiles! We try to educate people about these animals, who for the most part, are vilified and portrayed as fearsome creatures in the media. Exploration and discovery are important factors in fostering stewardship for the environment and getting young people interested in nature!

Our Zoo to You is an outreach programme whereby we visit various events, schools and homes all over the country and do educational sessions by bringing some of our animals, providing informative talks and offering pupils, teachers and the public the chance to encounter these animals up close. Experiencing the animals up close fosters interest and appreciation.

What inspired you towards a job here-have you always loved animals?

I have always wanted to work with animals since a young age. I wasn’t interested in dolls to play with – all my toys were animals!

As I got older, I really wanted a career I was passionate about, and a career with animals certainly fit the bill. I think I am drawn to animals with bad reputations – some of my favourites are reptiles (of course), hyenas, vultures, sharks. I find them fascinating, and more often than not, they are misunderstood.

Do you have a science background yourself?

I have always loved science, in particular biology, I did well in secondary school.

I studied in the UK in animal management and applied sciences, so there was a lot of lab work incorporated into my course, all relevant to animal husbandry of course (nutritional analysis, faecal tests).

I then went on to work in the animal reception centre in Heathrow Airport, where I studied part time for a Diploma in Zoo Animal Management, and specialized my studies in Herpetology.

Recent data shows that Ireland continues to experience a skills shortage in the STEM sector. What do you think we can do to keep dispelling the myth that science is difficult?

Introducing people to the various branches of science and showing the diversity of scientific fields could spark an interest. Science doesn’t have to take place in a laboratory – getting people out exploring the world and all of its fascinating residents for instance!

There is a misconception that science is difficult – but once it is interesting and interactive, everyone can take part!

What is your favourite science fact?

I can’t pick one! The fact that scientists have harnessed various toxins in venoms and poisons and applied them to pharmaceuticals and various medicines. It is amazing!