I have now completed six volunteer shifts at Paradise Wildlife Park and although at times it’s been challenging, especially in the recent 30 degree scorchers, the experience so far has been extremely rewarding. I’ve worked on three of the six sections – paddocks/farmyard, small mammals and primates – and each has offered me new experiences. In just a few days’ work I have fed tapirs by hand, helped weigh a group of meerkats and been pooed on by Nam Pang the red panda as I cleaned his enclosure. This wasn’t the sort of gratitude I was used to but it’s something not everyone can say has happened to them.
Now a member of the Paradise Park volunteer Facebook group, I saw a post asking for volunteer interviews for the website’s blog. Eager to get involved, I submitted an interview and in a few days the final post was published. I’d been told that due to the high number of responses, the post would feature quotes from several volunteers not just from the Animal Park but across all areas of Paradise. The following are my answers in full, but the final post can be found here.
Why I started volunteering at Paradise:
Having just graduated from university studying Wildlife Media, I’ve spent the past three years photographing and blogging about wildlife. Now I want hands-on, practical experience working with animals. Volunteering at Paradise gives me the opportunity to be part of a fantastic organisation that is passionate about celebrating and conserving some of the world’s most beautiful species.
I’ve been visiting Paradise since I was a child, and have fond memories of watching the talks, reading all about the zoo’s occupants and taking ride after ride on the dinosaur train. Returning as a volunteer, I can see it is still just as exciting, if not more so.
Best parts of the day:
While I enjoy many aspects of work as a volunteer, one of my favourite parts of the day is walking across the park, to and from the enclosures. During this time I get to see so many different people of all ages getting excited about and inspired by the animals. I’m frequently stopped and asked questions, and while I’m still no expert, I’m so happy when I can answer them and enhance the visitors’ experiences. My walks across the park also allow me to glimpse the large carnivores that I’m not allowed to work with just yet!
Most challenging parts of the day:
I began volunteering almost at the start of the heat wave, so have found it really challenging to lift heavy muck buckets and scrub floors clean while the sun beats down on my back! While volunteering at Paradise is physically demanding it’s also incredibly rewarding, and I savour the chance to work hard. I come home with aching arms and legs but know I’ve had a successful day!
Would you recommend other people volunteer (either at Paradise or in general)?
During my time at university I did a lot of volunteering at various places including Oxfam bookshop and the Lake District Coast Aquarium. As more and more people my age have degrees, it’s essential to also carry out plenty of work experience, and for me volunteering is invaluable. Not only can you pursue your interests, but you can gain so many different skills that can be brought into almost any working environment. Even in a few days volunteering at Paradise I have developed skills in communication, self-confidence and learnt so much about how much work and commitment it takes to run a successful zoo. I couldn’t recommend volunteering enough. I believe it brings an essential edge when applying for any job.
What are your ambitions and/or long term hopes for volunteering?
I am hoping to pursue a career in animal conservation and believe that volunteering at Paradise will help me develop my skills and learn what it takes to be successful in such a competitive field. I hope that some day I can be a permanent member of the team and have the opportunity to share my passion with the public. I welcome the responsibility of caring for wild animals and want to encourage a greater interest in conservation, particularly among young people.
Funniest volunteering story:
It was a scorching hot day and I was out in the reindeer enclosure removing old bedding and scrubbing the floors. As I was concentrating on a particularly stubborn piece of dirt I nearly jumped out my skin at the sound of an almighty roar from behind me. I spun round, expecting to come face-to-face with an escaped white lion, but instead saw a family gazing up at the Triceratops, whose audio had just been triggered by the motion sensor. I felt incredibly sheepish and hastily got back to scrubbing. Surrounded by reindeer, red deer and red foxes, I had not expected to also be spending the afternoon in the Cretaceous period!
Favourite animal at Paradise and why:
It sounds so predictable but like many visitors, I love the unique white tiger, adorable red pandas and equally sweet Asian short-clawed otters. However, for me the most charismatic animals so far have been the ferrets in the Farmyard. Each morning, once I’ve cleaned and fed the rabbits and guinea pigs, I wait for the keeper to remove the group of six male ferrets from their enclosure so I can clean it. This sounds simple, but opening the gate wide enough to grab one ferret is enough for all six to jump out, so catching them is no easy task. Ferrets are notoriously feisty, and once they’re shut safely in their boxes I can see their tiny faces watching me. They are a treat to watch, and easily as entertaining as any tiger.
Unforgettable moment at Paradise:
Although I’m still very new at Paradise and will undoubtedly have many more great memories, my most treasured moment so far happened on my very first morning. It was my trial day and I was sat in the Discovery Centre feeling very nervous about the day to come. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a white lion stirring from sleep – its deep, guttural roars echoed across the park. The sound made the hairs on my neck stand up. It was at that moment I knew why I was here, and I put my absolute all into my trial day and was thrilled when I was invited to return as a volunteer.