Zoo finding new ways for volunteers to help





On Saturday, Lee Richardson Zoo staff members presented two new volunteer opportunities available through the zoo's educational programs.

The zoo has utilized volunteers, who serve as docents, who help zoo staff members with both on- and off-site presentations aimed at educating the public about the animals.

"Now, we have gone to a new system of volunteering ... the reason everybody in this room is a docent is because up until this exact moment, that's the only way you could volunteer for the Lee Richardson Zoo," Tarra Tyson, manager of educational outreach said to about 23 people who attended a volunteer coffee, held Saturday at the Finnup Center for Conservation Education.

Docents are trained volunteers who assist in the zoo's education division, by giving animal programs or presentations to schools, scouts, service organizations, senior citizens, youth groups and others. This requires docents to be trained on proper animal handling techniques, as well as training about each type of animal so they can present it at various educational events.

During Saturday's event, actively serving docents handled such animals as a barn owl, a ball python, a salamander and a chinchilla.

Docent Krista Scheuerman, who was holding the chinchilla, said being a docent is fun.

"I love it. I'm a zoo science major at Friends University, so it made my decision," she said.

Tyson shared that in addition to docenting, the staff of the education center decided to offer two additional volunteer positions, enrichment specialists and zoo ambassadors.

"A few months ago, we started talking about it amongst the staff members and realized there are a lot of volunteers out there who want to come work with the zoo, and maybe you're one of them, who really like the organization but you don't want to get up there and give a presentation in front of a bunch of strangers. It is a little intimidating, so we developed a three-level system where you can actually choose what kind of volunteering you want to do and depending on what you choose, you'll go through more or less training," Tyson said. "Enrichment specialists don't give programs, but they can handle animals, and so our snake, salamander, owl — all of those are things you could be trained on. Our animals actually need a lot of time and care."

She said that enrichment specialists work with the animals in order to get them accustomed to being around people, which will in turn help staff members and docents present the animals to large groups of people.

She said that the zoo ambassador level is for people who aren't interested in actually handling the animals.

"You can help us get ready for special events. If you really like computer work, we have lots of that. If you like making graphics and signs, you can help us develop what goes out on (zoo) ground, and we have all sorts of other miscellaneous opportunities that come up along those lines," Tyson said.

To be a docent, a volunteer must be at least 18 years old, be out of high school for one year, attend nine training sessions, pay $10 for a training manual, $30 for a zoo shirt to be worn during presentations and take a tuberculosis (TB) test.

"We do require a TB test, because you're both working with our animals, who can contract TB, as well as with students possibly or the public, who can also contract TB," Tyson said.

To be an enrichment specialist, a volunteer must be 18, but is not required to be one year out of high school. They must attend five training sessions; pay $5 to $10 for a training manual and $15 for a volunteer T-shirt.

To be a zoo ambassador, a volunteer must be at least 16, attend two training sessions and no purchase of training material or zoo shirts is required.

"The zoo has a mission. The education division has its own mission. Our mission is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of the natural world, and as a volunteer, effectively, this is what you're helping us do," Tyson said.

She said that the training schedule will be determined as soon as they receive all of the applications and surveys filled out by prospective volunteers, but that it usually begins in mid-January.

For more information about volunteering at the zoo, call 276-1250 or email zoo.education@gardencityks.us.

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