THE manager at Dudley Zoo is celebrating 30 years in the role- three decades after visiting the zoo on a trip unaware his mum had signed him up to an interview.

Matt Lewis, aged 46, has been honoured with a long service award by his colleagues at the zoo and reflected on the past three decades caring for the zoo's inhabitants.

He said: "I was all set to become an apprentice with the MEB when I got a summer job at the zoo and never left and those 30 years have flown by.”

Matt's life at the zoo began when as a 16-year-old he visited the Castle Hill attraction with his mum, unaware that actually attending an interview for a trainee bird keeper’s position which his mum had applied for on his behalf.

Matt got the job and has worked his way up to become manager, where he now deals with all the operational work of the day-to-day running of the zoo.

He met his wife Lesley, a fellow zoo keeper, in 1997 and the couple now live at the zoo, where they juggle the needs of the animals while raising their own children, Harry, aged 20 and Eliza, aged 15.

Matt explained: “I’ve seen lots of changes at the zoo over the years, but they’ve been the best years of my life.

“My job is so varied and I don’t have a typical day as I could be checking on animals one moment to sitting in on council meetings the next. It’s certainly not dull, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!”

Paying tribute to Matt, zoo director Derek Grove said: “I’ve worked with Matt since he was a fresh-faced bird keeper, when he first helped start the zoo's Humboldt penguin colony. To this day, the colony remains one of the largest parent-reared groups in the UK and one of the zoo’s best success stories.

“Matt’s always taken a great interest in developing the zoo and there is no-one more dedicated to Dudley Zoo than him."