A boyhood passion for zoo animals has led Lee Jenkins along an 18-year journey through the animal kingdom to become head keeper at Combe Martin Wildlife Park. The vastly experienced keeper is a big cat specialist and has worked at well-known zoos around t

A boyhood passion for zoo animals has led Lee Jenkins along an 18-year journey through the animal kingdom to become head keeper at Combe Martin Wildlife Park.The vastly experienced keeper is a big cat specialist and has worked at well-known zoos around the country and in the field in Africa, joined the North Devon attraction in November.Lee, who previously worked at Bristol Zoo, was brought in by owner Bob Butcher to help him fulfil a wish for Combe Martin to become one of the best wildlife parks in the world.Since he grew up almost next door to London Zoo, perhaps it is unsurprising zookeeping became his profession: "I actually used to bunk off school just to go to the zoo," he said."I had a little corner of the wall I would climb over and would spend all my days there fascinated by the animals."He joined Whipsnade Zoo at age 17, becoming an almost instant 'foster mum' to a baby chimpanzee, later going on to work at Portlyme Zoo in Kent and the Welsh Mountain Zoo in North Wales.At Combe Martin Lee has wasted no time in getting to work: for one thing he is increasing the park's involvement in active breeding programmes to help ensure the survival of endangered species.He has also signed the park up to the global ISIS database, which contains records of every animal in every major zoo in the world.Along with his zoo postings, Lee has carried out fieldwork for the South African government in Zululand, spending three months alone in a swamp to study the local elephant population - while avoiding murderous poachers and some very unfriendly big cats."All that experience from the past 18 years is what I am bringing with me to help improve the park here," said Lee."We are going to be focussed on education, conservation and high standards of animal welfare."Combining these things gives the public the chance to see animals behaving as naturally as possible and also understand the reasons why we keep them in captivity and our breeding programmes."A new staff training programme has also been implemented, which will enable them to gain their animal management qualification, which will teach them how to keep everything from ants to elephants."Lee is also looking for people willing to do voluntary work alongside the animals.He can be contacted on 07933 758512 or via email on lee@parkfx.co.uk