Discover the heart of volunteering at Zoos SA

As a conservation charity, Zoos SA relies on the invaluable contributions of its volunteers.

These important people play a pivotal role in advancing the zoo’s mission, which is twofold: to connect visitors with the wonders of the natural world and to work tirelessly to protect species from the brink of extinction.

We spoke with two of the passionate individuals who dedicate their time to make a difference in the world of conservation and wildlife education at Adelaide Zoo and Monarto Safari Park. 

Deb Jakes, Monarto Safari Park Volunteer

What inspired you to become a volunteer at Adelaide Zoo?

I moved from England to Adelaide 18 years ago and joined as a way to get involved in the community and to meet people.

I’ve always been involved in volunteering and then wanted to do something that I knew I couldn’t do anywhere else. I started at Adelaide Zoo about 13 years ago then moved with my husband to Far North Queensland. About 5 years ago, once I knew we were heading back to Adelaide to live at our home in the hills, before we had even packed the house for moving I got in contact with the Zoos SA team to sign up to volunteer at Monarto Safari Park.  

Can you share a memorable experience or interaction you’ve had while volunteering at the zoo that had a significant impact on you?

I have a memorable time every time I go out!

It’s been very special to be part of things at the park. I was in England at the time that the elephant campaign started, so I had missed the initial launch and excitement. I came back and the fundraising had been happening for 3 weeks already but I mentioned it on one of my bus tours and people visiting whooped and clapped! The sheer delight of the visitors, the impact and how much it means for people to have elephants coming back to SA. It never ceases to amaze me the impact that we (Zoos SA) can have on people and their connection to the wild. 

Kids always ask to see the unicorns (the rhinos!)

How has your involvement at Zoos SA fostered a stronger connection with the local community or the broader conservation community?

It’s broadened my knowledge about the animals, and also about the additional work we do on the land. In my own development I’ve learnt a lot. Every time I go to the park, I learn something new. 

I wouldn’t normally get to meet the people from all backgrounds and walks of life that I now see on a weekly basis, it makes me feel involved, we get to do training and the pageant! It truly makes you feel part of the community and also keeps us fit! 

You know, we have people who travel from all over to come to volunteer, not people who you may have crossed paths with otherwise. Also, I’ve really enjoyed being involved with the Duke at the Zoo program. We get to engage with the youth and let them know about what we do and what they can do in their futures. Being able to make a difference with young people is really important to me. 

When you’re out with visitors, especially the young ones when the animals come close in African Plains (giraffe, eland, zebra and ostrich habitat) when you can feel the excitement and anticipation. Sometimes we forget that people haven’t seen a kangaroo or emu in the wild! You get to see and feel the excitement of the visitors. You can make people feel good just by talking and sharing our stories.

Can you describe a typical day as a volunteer at Adelaide Zoo?

No day is ever truly the same as it depends on the animals and on our visitors! To start off each day we have morning briefing to get any updates, animal movements, anything to be aware of – we have a coffee and a chat. Always good to see our fellow vollies. 

Then I welcome and assist with information hut, visitor experience, doing a handful of bus tour loops. Generally being an ambassador for the park, and always with a smile! That’s very important, 

My day is full of engaging with the public, it’s a busy day but so rewarding!

For those considering volunteering, what advice or insights would you share about the rewards and challenges of this experience?

I’m involved with the volunteer training team and I love it when people come in and they are nervous or don’t think that they can do what they see others doing, then a couple months later they have their shirt, their confidence and they’re good to go. You get to see others achieve something that they didn’t think was possible.

If anyone is considering it, I would tell them to enquire, come out and observe, and understand what’s expected. Stick at it, there’s a lot to learn but it’s very worthwhile and rewarding if you stick with it. 

If it wasn’t a good place, you wouldn’t give your time. It’s great being a volunteer at Monarto Safari Park because you know your voice is heard and you feel valued.  Jump on board, share our stories and make a difference. Every time we put on our shirts we feel privileged to be part of ZoosSA. 

Do you have a favourite animal you could tell us about? 

The male lions; our three boys are just awesome and beautiful! Following that, the native Australia species that call the park home, the wild kangaroos and emus. And of course the Tassie devils. 

Elizabeth Crawley, Adelaide Zoo and Monarto Safari Park Volunteer 

What inspired you to become a volunteer at Monarto Safari Park?

Being challenged by a grandchild to become a guide because I could talk a lot! But over time, my motivation has moved to support an organisation I truly respect in so many areas. I love making connections with our visitors and leading them to discover ways to support our goals of connecting with nature and saving species. 

Can you share a memorable experience or interaction you’ve had while volunteering at the zoo that had a significant impact on you?

So many but one stands out. One of my grandchildren phoned me to say “ your shampoo has rhino horn in it! You have to do something.” She had heard me talk about keratin in rhino horn and the TV advertisement mentioned keratin! She was so concerned. This made me realise the extent of the impact that our conversations, and interactions with our visitors! I remain inspired by this still.

Another experience was watching a young man starting the bus tour with disinterest, but slowly taking more and more notice of the sights from the bus. The sight of a giraffe looking closely in the window of the bus right near him awoke something in him. He looked and listened intently afterwards and spoke to me at length after our tour finished. An awakening of interest.. I remember him and it motivates me to continue.

How has your involvement at Zoos SA fostered a stronger connection with the local community or the broader conservation community?

The connections made with other volunteers for Zoos SA, increase the feeling of belonging to a community with a great sense of purpose. There are many opportunities to discuss conservation work, other volunteering areas, other passions apart from conservation, and to support each other in those roles. I have learnt about conservation on trips overseas. Mentioning that I volunteer at Zoos SA always brings respect and an openness to discuss conservation. 

Can you describe a typical day as a volunteer?

At Monarto Safari Park this involves greeting visitors as they arrive, encouraging them to make the most of their day. Greeting people as they wait to get on the bus, then sharing stories as a guide once we are heading through the park. Several bus tours gives me an opportunity to connect with many visitors and it is heartwarming when some say they remember me from a previous visit.

For those considering volunteering, what advice or insights would you share about the rewards and challenges of this experience?

Rewards are many; joy of connection, respect, responsibility, a feeling of truly contributing to society and conservation, and many friendships. Be open to all the new experiences. 

I have found only a few challenges. Interacting sometimes with people who have a different view on zoos in general, or rarely disruptive individuals or groups. However the training and support given has generally prepared me for these situations. Feedback and follow up after an issue has been very useful. Learning from my mistakes has helped too! Remember that we are our own harshest critics. 

Do you have a favourite animal you could tell us about?

Spotted hyenas for sure! Smart, strong, resilient but often considered in a negative light. They remind me that believing the current popular view of a group or an individual can be unfair. Look closer! Look for the good! 

Top tips for a good day out

Make sure to plan your day on the website and book for any extra paid experiences in advance. 

Monarto Safari Park

  • Start early! Decide if there is a particular species you want to learn about, and see if there is a relevant keeper talk. 
  • Get off the bus at the stops and look around. Spend the day! 

 Adelaide Zoo

  • Keeper talks give great information.
  • Take a walking tour with a guide.
  • Spend time at each habitat taking in the sights and sounds, and sometimes smells!


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