Sunset Zoo provides unique volunteer opportunities

Julianna Poe, Sports Editor

Look no further than Sunset Zoo for the opportunity to receive volunteer service hours and care for animals.

In addition to having a convenient location in relation to Manhattan High, Sunset Zoo offers two volunteer programs targeted toward teenagers — Zoo Crew and Zoo Teen. 

“[Through Zoo Crew, volunteers receive a] very all-encompassing look at what the field of animal husbandry is about, especially in zoos and aquariums,” Programs and Education Animals Manager Nicole Wade said. “[Meanwhile], our Zoo Teen program is our volunteer program for anybody who’s interested in working in zoos or aquariums.”

According to Wade, Zoo Crew “is a stem-based, after school program” that gives students learning opportunities in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. Volunteers will be expected to measure out food, take the temperatures of the enclosures and give educational animals enrichment among other tasks. 

“[Zoo Crew is] very structured on animal husbandry,” Wade said. “Once a week … you’re making a commitment to come in for [two hours for] the entire semester to do that shift. You’re working with those animals doing animal husbandry, and that’s the entire focus of that program.”

On the other hand, the Zoo Teen program offers a much wider variety of volunteer opportunities.

“We do all sorts of things, from caring for the animals — education animals, not like tigers or anything — to helping with birthday parties and summer camps,” senior and Zoo Teen member Madi Perkins said. “You can kind [of] do whatever you like to do, which is nice.”

The goal of the Zoo Teen program is to provide volunteers with experience in an animal handling field, as well as give them leadership skills, educational skills and interpretation skills.

“Working at the zoo not only gave me the opportunity to work with animals and have a good time,” Perkins said. “But it also really boosted my work ethic and taught me how to work with other people from a young age so I feel like it prepared me for future jobs.”

One of the many benefits of volunteering at Sunset Zoo is the opportunity to work with and care for animals.

“My favorite animal that I’ve gotten to work with are the ferrets because they are really cuddly and they’re fun to watch,” Perkins said. “They like to run around in tubes and stuff. My favorite animal in the whole zoo is the otters though for honestly the same reasons as the ferrets.”

Another benefit of becoming a volunteer at Sunset Zoo is the many, wonderful friends and memories.

“[My favorite memory as a Zoo Teen is] working with one of the little kids,” sophomore and Zoo Teen Bella Lane said. “He told me he wanted to be my friend because I was small like him.”

Before making the commitment to become a volunteer at the zoo, both Wade and Perkins advice to be prepared for manual labor. 

“You won’t just be playing with fluffy animals the whole time,” Perkins said. “You’re going to get messy and it’ll be hot and you’re going to work your booty off but it’s definitely worth it.”

Additionally, it is important to remember to treat others with appreciation as volunteers are both representing themselves and Sunset Zoo.

“Animals need to be treated with respect, kids need to be treated with respect and guests need to be treated with respect,” Lane said.

Registration for Zoo Crew in the spring semester will open in January, with Zoo Teen enrollment in the following months.

“I think anybody who has a passion for animals or has a passion for conservation, or just wants to learn how … they can help our world [should look into our volunteer programs],” Wade said.