The Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre was established by a group of people who wanted to help bridge the gap between disabled and able bodied people.
Since its conception in 1991, when 6 students with 6 plants and sixty pounds from Ravensthorpe Social Educational Centre began sowing seeds donated by Beardsworths Garden Centre over 40 people have benefited from working in the greenhouses. Ponderosa Centre now runs a very successful business.
The farm started as a hobby for Maureen Cook in 1992 with several rare breeds, including llamas and emus. It soon became a favourite with the people from the local community and we soon realised that caring for the animals assisted their personal development.
People who previously had very limited communication skills, very little farming knowledge and low self-esteem were now becoming very adept workers with increasing confidence and vastly improved social skills. Some moved on to gain skills elsewhere, some are now competent workers at Ponderosa, working in the joiners shop, taking care of the animals, even to the extent of lambing sheep without needing any help. These are people who could not communicate or use public transport when they first visited the farm.
The number of different rare breeds on the farm has continued to increase and there are now pigs, peacocks, highland cows, goats, horses, donkeys, birds of prey, llamas, several different kinds of birds and many, many more.
As the word has spread local schools and playgroups began to bring groups of 30 or more children to see the well cared for animals at Ponderosa, to further their curricula studies or just for a day out.
The growing success and obvious necessity in the community prompted Howard and Maureen Cook to develop the venture further, into the Ponderosa that can be seen today.
Construction of a visitor centre began in January 1997. This now provides facilities such as toilets for the disabled and a refreshment area. A veranda has been incorporated giving beautiful views of the lake, animal sheds and surrounding countryside.
Eve joined Ponderosa in May 2016 as a mammal keeper before being promoted to Zoo manager. She has a degree in Animal Health and Welfare along with years of experience working with a vast range of species.
Eve’s favourite animals at Ponderosa are the two young Coatis, Nina and Bella. Along with our Reindeer calf, Faline who was born in June 2018.
‘Being the manager of Ponderosa is an honour, it’s a wonderful place where we get to work with and learn from some incredible animals. The team we have here is absolutely fantastic – with our shared passion for animal welfare and conservation we work together brilliantly. We’re like a big family, this place really is more than a job to all of us and I wouldn’t change it for the world.'
Matt joined the Ponderosa team back in 2013 as a volunteer before taking on the role of head animal keeper in late 2015. Matt has a degree in management of animal collections with conservation and a top-up degree in zoo management at Askham Bryan College.
In the Summer of 2017 Matt was promoted again, to assistant zoo manager with plans to enhance the education and conservation work we carry out here at Ponderosa.
‘Working at Ponderosa gives me the ability to educate people about animals and conservation. Plus having the opportunity to work with animals everyday makes it the best job in the world. One of my main focuses is primate conservation, meaning the black and white ruffed lemurs and the ring-tailed lemurs have to be up there with my favourite species here! But in terms of individuals, I definitley have a soft spot for Elton, our African crested porcupine.’
After acquiring a degree in Welfare of Animal Collections at Myerscough College, Ryan joined our team as a full-time reptile keeper. With his specialist knowledge and experience the Reptile House has been updated and there are many new species to be seen.
‘For me, working at Ponderosa boils down to four distinct things. Firstly and most importantly is that I get to fulfil my dream of being a dedicated reptile keeper, working with snakes, lizards and insects. Secondly, I finally get to work with my favourite animal, the Asian short clawed otter, which allows me to use my experience in animal training and behaviour to clicker and target train the otters, something that I have always wanted to do and get a great deal of enjoyment out of. Third is that I get to use my distinction in enclosure design to constantly update and improve the animals habitats. And finally I can use my creative thinking to come up with new enrichment ideas for all the animals I get to work with.’
Ebony has a degree in equine science and management in addition to owning two of her own horses at home. Since joining Ponderosa in April 2017 Ebony has developed the fitness regimes of the horses we keep here, and having already gained previous experience with riding for the disabled this makes her a brilliant attribute to the Ponderosa team.
When she isn’t preparing feeds or mucking out you can find her working with our horses such as Bernie, Katie and Willow. Although retired horse, Foxy is her personal favourite!
Ebony spends her days not only with the horses, but looking after our Soay sheep as well.
"Working at Ponderosa has allowed me to work and care for animals that I am passionate about, as well as allowing me to develop my knowledge into the care of other species. It has also allowed me to share my knowledge of horses with others and educate them, whilst being able to work in a friendly and fun atmosphere"
Laura enjoys working with a huge range of the animals we keep here from the alpacas to the birds. After earning herself a degree in Welfare of Animal Collections she started as a volunteer, mainly helping take care of the horses before moving onto working with the birds, where she was then employed as an animal keeper.
Since then Laura has continued to show exceptional standards and works with almost every animal we keep. Her personal favourites are Vinnie the otter and one of our macaws named Charlie.
Away from work, Laura has a huge variety of pets she takes care of from a duckling to degus! And enjoys dying her hair a variety of vivid colours.
She’s an amazing member of the team, very high spirited, full of passion and always goes the extra mile when it comes to animal welfare.
Alyson started as a volunteer in July 2016, her knowledge and compassion towards the animals was so remarkable she was employed as a full time mammal keeper. Alyson is an extremely dedicated member of the team, often being the first one to arrive and the last to one leave at the end of the day.
"When it comes to the animals here at Ponderosa it is impossible to be able to pick a favourite, each animal has such unique characteristics! If I was to narrow it down to the animals I absolutely love working with it would definitely be the reindeer and wallabies"
‘Ever since I can remember I have always felt that being around animals is where I truly belong. As a previous volunteer for the cats protection league and as an animal care assistant at the RSPCA I gained a lot of experience with animal husbandry.'
Jonny joined our team as a volunteer towards the end of 2017 to pursue a career within the animal industry. He had already completed a degree in Zoo Biology at Nottingham Trent and excelled here at Ponderosa. In May 2018 Jonny was hired as a member of the education team. You will often see him presenting a variety of educational keeper talks to the public, along with leading animal handling sessions.
At home Jonny has a pet dog but his favourite animal at Ponderosa is Jerry our silver fox.
'Working at Ponderosa is amazing for me because working with animals is something I've always wanted to do and I'm able to work with a huge variety here. It has also given me the confidence to present keeper talks and allows me to effectively pass on my knowledge and passion for animals to the visitors'.
Shannon started as a volunteer in October 2017, whilst studying Animal Management at Askham Bryan college. In the spring Shannon became a member of our education team and later on became a mammal keeper providing her with experience whilst completing a degree. Shannon aspires to be a wildlife conservationist abroad, hoping to gain even further experience.
“It’s hard for me to pick a favourite but if I had to it would be the lemurs or reindeers”
“Being able to work at Ponderosa has been an amazing opportunity. It has allowed me to carry out work that I am passionate about with a variety of species”.
We have several volunteer vacancies available:
Maintenance Volunteers: Includes keeping the zoo presentable by sweeping paths, litter picking and emptying bins
Bouncy Castle Volunteers: Must be 18+ and be willing to deal with cash whilst supervising our bouncy castle