BY ASZYA SUMMERS
When thinking about who works at the zoo, most people immediately think of zookeepers, but it takes a variety of people to keep things running smoothly. As an accredited, world class zoo, the Racine Zoo hosts over 100 adult volunteers, volunteens (teen volunteers) and interns who work directly alongside zoo staff in nearly every area. The program is incredibly unique – each volunteer is allowed to choose the area they are most excited about working in, and staff makes sure to help each volunteer find the right fit.
Volunteers are essential in a myriad of tasks. On any given evening, you can find volunteers helping commissary staff chop vegetables, weigh out meat and measure diets for every animal in the zoo to ensure they receive their proper diets. But it’s not all animal care! Other volunteers help prepare mailings or enter administrative data. Some of our volunteers help landscape around the zoo, or assist our facilities team with cleaning tasks. Dressing as our giraffe mascot, handing out candy on Halloween, decorating parade floats, and going with the zoo on outreach are just a few of the seasonal volunteer opportunities offered through the year.
Some volunteers work their way up to handling some of our ambassador animals and helping out with educational programming. Sarah Leonard has taught classes at the zoo for nearly a year.
“There are many reasons why I enjoy volunteering at the Racine Zoo,” Leonard said. “Not only do I get to share my passion and love of animals with other people, but I also am able to educate and spread the message of conservation at the same time. I feel this is, in a way, my small part in ensuring knowledge of these beautiful creatures for years to come.”
Volunteens go through a full application process that includes gathering letters of recommendation from teachers, writing a mini cover letter and group interviews. Once admitted into the program, volunteens help with everything from driving the Zoo Choo train, interpreting and educating guests around the zoo, preparing animal diets, weeding and gardening and more.
There are special events nearly every day in the summer months at the zoo, and these would be impossible without our volunteers and volunteens. From helping kids create crafts at a Zoorific Saturday to taking registrations and assisting with setting up and serving food, our event volunteers are essential to making each event special. These are some of the zoo’s busiest days, but also the most fun, as each shift is paid for in smiles.
But our volunteers aren’t the only people working hard for the animals. The zoo also offers internships in Animal Welfare, Conservation Education, Special Events and more! This gives those looking to build a career in the zoo field a chance to work alongside staff and hone their skills.
“Every shift you work alongside the keepers to gain an understanding of what it means to be a zookeeper as well as learn about the importance of animals in a zoo,” said Angie Huntington, a former Animal Welfare intern who is now employed with the zoo as a zookeeper. “They made sure that I was able to participate in daily training sessions such as hand feeding a Black Rhino while the keeper performed a blood draw or trimming a skunk’s nails. This internship was like no other. I learned so much about the field of zookeeping and about myself.”
“I did not realize that I wanted to teach until I joined the Conservation Education Department of the Racine Zoo for four months,” Juliana Udoni, another former intern commented. “I am currently working at the Randall Oaks Zoo… as an animal care staff member as well as an animal program assistant. I am teaching children about animals and hopefully inspiring them too to be passionate about animals and this world.”
Our next volunteer training for adults will be Saturday, April 6 from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. To learn more about the Racine zoo or how to find your place in the team, email Aszya Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Racine zoo at racinezoo.org.
Aszya Summers is the Conservation Education Manager at the Racine Zoo.