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Enriching experiences at the zoo

Creating games and activities to keep the animals entertained is one of the unusual tasks undertaken by volunteers at Zoos Victoria

Zoo volunteers

Sewing an old firehose to make climbing equipment that will be used to help enrich the lives of orangutangs, is just one of the unusual activities undertaken by volunteers for Zoos Victoria.

Volunteer Programs Manager Marg Joiner says there is an ongoing need to create ‘enrichment’ activities that are designed to help zoo animals stay active and healthy.

‘Largely that's food items, but not always. So, it's not the preparation of their daily diet, but things that will challenge the animals both mentally and physically — in the wild, most of our animals would be spending their time looking for food and eating food, so we provide opportunities for the animals to carry out those natural wild behaviours at the zoo too.

Enriching programs

‘So, some of our volunteers make enrichment items. They can be small food items where there's some sort of challenge – like they might have to go through a whole box of wood to find one or two raisins.

‘We’ve also just started a role at Healesville Sanctuary for volunteers who are going to grow plants specifically for that enrichment. So, the potted plants will be put into animal environments where the animals can basically destroy them, and then they'll be taken out and replanted.’

Zoos Victoria currently has about 850 volunteers across its three sites at the Royal Melbourne Zoo, Werribee Open Range Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary, and are always looking for more, especially since taking over the management of Kyabram Fauna Park.

Conservation and preventing local wildlife extinction

Marg says the people who volunteer are a mixed bunch but she has noticed a change in the demographic in line with the zoo’s evolution to focus on conservation and preventing local wildlife extinction.

‘The animals that we have here are basically ambassadors for their cousins or direct relatives in the wild and we talk about how our actions here are impacting their populations in the world, so we are getting a lot of people who are really engaged with environmental issues and conservation issues and want to help us get our messaging behind our conservation campaigns out there,’ Marg says.

‘There is now a generation of people who were very involved in the big environmental causes that have happened in Australia over the past 30 years, like fighting for the Tarkine Rainforest, and they are still wanting to be actively involved in some way.

Giving back through volunteering

‘Also, if they've had children and grandchildren, they're starting to want to be able to say they are going to leave the world in better shape. So, they're quite motivated and strongly back our conservation efforts,’ Marg says.

One myth she would like to bust about volunteering at the zoo is that you can be involved in direct animal keeping. The priority is actually to assist visitors to ensure they have a great experience — and provide the answer to the most asked question: Where are the toilets?

For more information visit the Zoos Victoria website.External Link

Reviewed 09 November 2023