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It's like working in a zoo here...

Your first task is to feed the wild animals. Then the children arrive. Dorothy Lepkowska on an unusual job vacancy

If it had been Hollywood, someone would have warned Catherine Bowne long ago about the perils of working with animals and children.

But for her, working with the acting profession's two worst nightmares can be sheer joy.

Ms Bowne, 27, is London Zoo's resident primary education officer. And unlike many teachers struggling daily with poor discipline and disaffected pupils, she almost always has a captive audience.

She said: "It's such a great job. I am teaching children about things they love and find genuinely interesting. I don't have to go on about compound words, sentence structure or anything they find difficult or boring.

"They are always excited and interested and want to learn, and for me that's incredibly rewarding."

Ms Bowne left a supply job in primary teaching almost two years ago to take on the job at London Zoo. At the same time she was undertaking voluntary work with Rainforest Concern, a London-based conservation charity.

Previously she was a full-time primary teacher in schools in Chichester and Cambridge, but had always dreamed of combining her love of teaching with her interest in conservation.

Typically, Ms Bowne's working day begins with feeding the animals - including a snake, giant snails and millipedes - that are kept in the zoo's education centre. She then sets up her classrooms, where she teaches groups of four to 11-year-olds.

"The pupils are awe-struck when they walk in because we have life-sized animals on display. I've had very, very few problems with bad behaviour. If anything they go quiet as they take it all in," she said.

Teaching is tailored to schools' project work. There is a selection of "biofacts" - including animal skins, bones and skulls - on display, many on loan from HM Customs. These can be used to illustrate topics such as wildlife habitats, camouflage and conservation. Teaching programmes are relevant to the national curriculum, but schools often ask her to concentrate on particular topics to supplement the work being done in school.

Ms Bowne, however, is leaving her job shortly to go to Australia, so the Zoological Society of London, comprising London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, is looking for another teacher to take over the pound;21,466-a-year role.

The successful candidate will be a qualified teacher with at least one year's experience and a degree in biological sciences. He or she must also be a good communicator and organiser.

Ms Bowne, who hopes to find a similar position in Sydney, said: "If you like teaching and conservation or wildlife, this really is the perfect job.

You pick up knowledge all the time.

"The children constantly surprise me with really probing questions. I don't always know the answers, so I go away and check up and make sure I know for next time."

* dorothy.lepkowska

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