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Building a career and a connection with animals

As a teenager Sarah Leonard volunteered at the Animal Welfare League, dreaming of a career working with animals. Now more than 15 years later she's dealt with a tiger dental emergency, discovered three joeys during a bilby pouch check, and is well on her way to turning her career dreams into reality.

By TAFE Queensland

The mother-of-three recently completed TAFE Queensland's Certificate III in Animal Studies (ACM30117) as part of a unique program with the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation.

“I have spent the last 12 months feeding tigers, handling reptiles, looking after the koala husbandry, helping with rescued wildlife while learning direct from industry specialists,” said Sarah.

“A stand out moment was being among an incident when one of the tigers broke his front tooth and had to be darted and put under anaesthetic. It was amazing just watching it all happen as the vet, vet nurses and the tiger keepers all worked together," she said.

“I also got to do a pouch check on one of the bilby’s and she had three joeys in her pouch! It was so beautiful to experience."

“The course has been truly amazing and above all I have gained a nationally-recognised qualification which has given me the skills to peruse my dream career as an animal carer, trainer or health officer,” she said.

Sarah was one of the first students to complete the exclusive program which sees 22 students selected each year via an application process to study at TAFE Queensland’s Coomera campus as well as one day a week on-site at Dreamworld.

These students are immersed with animals alongside Dreamworld’s animal keepers and wildlife professionals to obtain practical skills and insights into the importance of the survival of native wildlife.

Upon graduation, Sarah took on a volunteer animal keeper assistant position at Dreamworld during peak season and is now furthering her education with a dual qualification in pet grooming and companion animal services.

“Applying for the TAFE Queensland and Dreamworld program was easily the best thing I have ever done, it provided me with so many opportunities, wonderful experiences and has given me the confidence to continue my studies,” said Sarah.

“Not only were my TAFE teachers knowledgeable, approachable and helpful but the wildlife team at Dreamworld provided me with skills that you can’t learn from a textbook."

“I have also made some lifelong friends in my class who are likeminded and as passionate about the welfare of animals as I am,” she said.

Sarah studied at TAFE Queensland using the State Government's Certificate 3 Guarantee funding which supports eligible individuals to complete their first post-school certificate III level qualification and increase their skills to move into employment, re-enter the workforce or advance their career.