Angus Whatman has always had a love of working with animals. Growing up on a working dairy farm in Gooloogong in Central West NSW, the 16-year-old learnt the ins and outs of animal care from a young age. Now, he is turning this passion into a career, studying a Certificate II in Animal Studies to become a zookeeper.

And a career in zookeeping is definitely within Angus’ reach. In 2021, he was selected from a competitive application process to undertake work experience at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

Delayed due to COVID-19, Angus completed his work experience earlier this year and described it as life changing.

“Every day, I went out with a different team to care for a different animal, including rhinos and a rhino calf, cheetahs and meerkats,” he said. “It made me sure I wanted to go into zookeeping when I finished school.”

It makes sense that Angus would relish this experience, as he has always had a natural affinity for animals and already has a proven track record in animal care and breeding. Last year, he successfully bred bearded dragons, hatching 48 babies, which he sold to a licensed reptile centre. In addition, he is currently hand-rearing an orphaned baby lorikeet.

During his work experience, the team shared tips on building a zookeeping career, even saying they would love to have him back as part of the team one day. He came away more determined than ever to pursue his dream, and went straight to his school careers adviser to explore options.

Ultimately, Angus discovered that, while he could spend a day a week at TAFE studying animal studies and continue on at school to achieve his HSC, it wasn’t going to be all smooth sailing.

“If I did that, they told me I wouldn’t be able to get an ATAR. I was staying on at school to get an ATAR so I had the option to go to uni and become a vet if zookeeping didn’t work out,” he said.

While this initially felt like a blow to his plans, Angus had support from his father, Shane. Together, they ultimately decided that Angus would leave school to focus on his vocational studies full-time.

For Shane, supporting his son to follow his dreams was an easy decision.

“I realised taking the Certificate in Animal Studies pathway was the best fit for Angus. He could have stayed at school, but it would have put him behind in his career studies. And there are other pathways if he decides he wants to go to uni to become a vet later,” Shane said. 

Working with Central-West based employment, training and apprenticeships provider VERTO, Angus transitioned from school into full-time studies for his Certificate II in Animal Studies in mid-2022. 

The certificate represents the first step in his pathway to zookeeping, and Angus is completing it as part of a traineeship on the family farm, stepping up to greater responsibilities as his dad battles cancer.

“I learn something new all the time. I am working towards what I want to do for a living and helping dad,” Angus said.

It’s clear Shane is incredibly proud of his son’s achievements too.

“Not only is Angus studying hard, but he’s also stepping up on the farm while I deal with chemo. He’s building new skills every day in class and here on the farm, and it’s great to see him doing something he loves.” 

As for what’s next for Angus, he’ll complete Certificate II in Animal Studies in mid-2023 and take the next step in his journey – Certificate III in Captive Animals, building the core skills to care for animals in zoo settings.

VERTO CEO Ron Maxwell said that Angus’ story highlights how traineeships can turn a passion into a career.

“From school leavers to HSC graduates, apprenticeships and traineeships offer a great career pathway and are well worth a look. There are more than 500 apprenticeships and traineeship occupations, so there really is something for everyone.

“University isn’t going to suit everyone, and it’s great to see youngsters like Angus have the support of their family to think outside the square to forge their own path to a fulfilling career.”

Interested in exploring career options that align with your skills and passions? Visit www.verto.org.au or phone 1300 4 VERTO (1300 883 786) to speak to the VERTO team who can assist with all your traineeship, apprenticeship, training and employment options. 

About VERTO

VERTO is a community owned, not-for-profit organisation delivering a range of apprenticeship, community support, employment and training services to assist individuals, employers and industries. We can be found in over 60 locations across the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria. For more information, visit verto.org.au.