When I left university I knew I wanted to get straight into working with animals in conservation and exploring all the different options available out there. So while I worked part time at Superdrug saving for my travels around the world I volunteered every Friday at Colchester Zoo in Essex. It was an interview process with training involved and soon I was a fully fledged Voluntary Education Volunteer with some friendly people with similar interests and experience as myself and an array of responsibilities:
- Manning the Rainforest Walkthrough – a walkthrough exhibit with Golden Lion Tamarins, Sloths, and Tortoises roaming free. My duties were to assure visitors of their safety in such close proximity to wild animals as well as making sure the said animals did not make a break for freedom through the doors or cause any unwonted issues with the visitors.
- Manning various exhibits such as Orangutans, Tigers, Chimpanzees and Leaf Cutter Ants – here I would be inside the exhibit buildings which would contain more than one enclosure of various species, enclosed in a specific theme. I would be available to visitors to answer any questions and give small talks on the species, habitats and the individual animals.
- Teaching in the Discovery and learning centre –working with and handling different invertebrate species such as the Madagascan Hissing Cockroach, the Papua New Guinea Spiny Stick Insect and the North America Corn Snake, encouraging children and their families to interact with the animals and learn more about them and their natural habitats.
- Assisting with feeding displays and animal presentations – I would provide browse and feed to visitors who wished to feed Elephants, Giraffes or Penguins. I would be available to visitors to answer any questions and give small talks on the species, habitats and the individual animals as well as selling badges aiming to raise money to the related conservation projects Colchester zoo was working with.
- Manning the Action for the Wild Campaign area – raising awareness of the project at the Umphafa Game reserve in Africa, working to protect and reintroduce endangered species such as the White Rhino and Giraffe.
My time here was really interesting and enjoyable. We were even rewarded with a volunteer thank you day where we were taken behind the scenes of many of the exhibits to see training with the white Tiger, the Elephants, and my personal favourite getting to meet Zamba, the brand new White Rhino baby born during my time there. He was an absolutely delightful little youngster who loved a cuddle – truly a memorable experience!
Everyday I learnt something new and met friendly and enthusiastic visitors that made the experience worthwhile. I was able to develop a familiar rapport with the staff and even some of the animals, particularly Rajang the friendly Orangutan. It made me really consider going into a profession in Zoo Conservation and ultimately really affected my choice of Masters Degree. Colchester provided a great opportunity and contacts, which will hopefully give me the edge in future job interviews.