Origin of the teacher species
Imagine a college where the teachers are caged, where students can stroke, cuddle and poke them in the name of education.
This isn't the latest change in lecturers' working conditions. In fact, the teachers in question are animals that reside at Reaseheath college in Nantwich, Cheshire.
They belong to Britain's first college zoo. In return for food and water, they "teach" students about animal care, and act as a vital supplement to textbooks and classroom sessions.
Hannah Clarke, 17, studying for a national diploma in animal management, said: "I grew up on a farm and love animals. The fact that the college has a zoo licence means more people can learn how beautiful they all are."
Lyndsay Hunter, 19, also studying animal management, said: "Having animals to learn from is better than sitting in a classroom and looking at a blackboard."
Reaseheath offers a range of courses, including a foundation course and diploma in animal care as well as studies for apprentices from the age of 16 who attend one day a week. Two degrees in animal welfare and behaviour are also available at the college.
Some 450 students are supported by 20 lecturers and technicians. There are 850 animals and 150 species - including birds, reptiles and fish. Students look after meerkats, ring-tailed lemurs, wallabies, a family of mara and a llama. They have also recently welcomed three skunks.
The animal centre includes a reptile house, aviaries, and enclosures for more common pets such as rabbits and guinea-pigs.
Animal care manager Richard Champion said: "Being granted a zoo licence proves that we have achieved exceptionally high standards in animal welfare. It will enable us to keep an even wider range of exotic species and broaden students' experience.
"It will also allow us to become more involved in conservation and to work with a greater number of international organisations.
"There is a lot of demand for courses covering the needs and practical care of exotic animals. Many of our students hope to work for zoos, wildlife parks and welfare agencies, so they need experience in handling and managing the more unusual species."
The zoo's ring-tailed lemurs originate from Madagascar but were brought to the college from a wildlife park in Blackpool.
Animals have also come from welfare charities. The college provides an advice service for people who have bought exotic pets such as snakes or alligators.
The cost of maintaining the animals at the three-acre zoo is expected to reach pound;30,000 a year as it expands - not including salaries. To help fund it, staff plan to open the zoo to the public during holidays and on some weekends before opening fully in 2006. The income from admission fees will go towards the upkeep of the animals and the development of new courses.
Several students have been sent to South Africa to study animals in the wild.
Reaseheath also hopes to use its zoo to help conserve endangered native British species such as the red squirrel and the doormouse.