Across the country men are getting in on ‘Movember’ but Lakeland Wildlife Oasis zookeeper Neil Cook is racing to grow a moustache to rival his animal adversaries, raising money and awareness along the way.
Neil has very personal reasons for supporting the “Movember” charity, which works to raise awareness on male health issues such as testicular cancer and mental health issues. Before joining the Oasis in 2016 Neil, 31- a true sand grown ‘un from Morecambe- was an animal studies technician at Lancaster & Morecambe College, where he became aware of the lack of conversation around male health, and mental wellbeing in particular.
“I realised people, especially young men, weren’t able to talk about their feelings,” says Neil. “This was brought very close to me when a friend suffered a breakdown. Luckily he was able to get help, but we weren’t aware how desperate he had become, and the help he could have received earlier.”
With the shocking statistic that the biggest cause of death in men under 45 is suicide, Neil applauds initiatives like the ‘Heads Together’ mental health campaign spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
But Neil also has monkey-business in his sights for ‘Movember’. He said “I’m lucky enough to work daily with our mischievous Emperor Tamarin monkeys, who have the most incredible moustaches! So, my challenge is to grow a ‘tache to rival theirs- although they’ll beat me paws-down!”
Doing so will support their close relatives, the South American Cotton-Top Tamarins, who are among the most endangered primates in the world. Hirsute-hopeful Neil is splitting his fundraising between ‘Movember’ and ‘Proyecto Tití’, a charity working for the preservation of the Oasis’ Cotton-Top cousins.
Neil realised many zookeepers feel more of an affinity with their animals, talking to them rather than people, so this opens up the opportunity to check in with his colleagues. He claims he has an advantage; “I look completely ridiculous with a moustache- so bad that strangers come up and ask me about it! It’s a great conversation-starter and a great way to raise awareness.”