Volunteering at Paradise
On a daily basis our volunteers are asked about their roles, how they got into them, how they do all the hard work without pay. So, we thought we would interview them, gather their thoughts, and deliver them back to you to answer all your burning questions!
At Paradise there are many different volunteer roles including everything from working hands-on with the animals, to collecting funds for the charity projects that we support, and even gardening! Generally, we like to offer a little something for everyone, and this more recently includes manning our dinosaurs and making sure no fingers are nibbled by the robotic beasts.
Volunteers come to Paradise for a variety of reasons, some have been visiting the park for many years and built up a history with the zoo before they joined the team, others are retiring, and some even on the early career path to working with animals. Over their time at the zoo, which ranges from just a couple of weeks to 22 years (in the case of some of our longest-serving volunteers!) they have gathered fond memories, experiences and most importantly – friendships; both human and animal.
For the many volunteers who work on the animal park, their favourite memories and best parts of the day are quite obviously getting to interact with the animals, and build relationships with them, whilst developing their work skills – even if the only thing you learn, is how clumsy you are in small and tricky spaces! Our small mammal intern, Emily, says that the best part of her day is “that it is so varied. One moment I’ll be preparing feeds, the next I’m doing maintenance in an enclosure!”. But for those who are in it for the people, their days are made by speaking to visitors, interacting with curious children, and generally making a difference for conservation and education. One of our Conservation Cabin volunteers, Samantha, says that she leaves every day with that ‘feel good feeling’, and knowing that “even if we only make £10 in a day, that’s £10 more for charity than we had the day before.”
Whereas Heidi, on our Dino-Team, has had some unique experiences with children, which can sometimes be a challenge – you never know what they are going to ask you! Here is Heidi’s favourite interaction, to give you a flavour of how she has to think on her toes:
“I was asked by a 5-year-old boy what we fed our dinosaurs; I said meat and vegetables. He then asked me if we fed them people! I replied, “No, that wouldn’t be very nice!”. Shortly after, he came back, having thought about it for 10 seconds and asked, “So, do you feed them dead people then?”.”
Let’s not forget that every one of our volunteers can walk into work to the rumbling of our lion pride waking their territory of Broxbourne – a sound which will never escape your memory! Animal park volunteer, Rebecca, describes the first time she heard the memorable call: “The sound made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was at that moment that I knew why I was here!”.
One of our most dedicated volunteers, Nick, joined the park in 1994. In those days volunteering was a totally different ball game. In fact, Nick’s first memory of the zoo was being asked to put out water for a llama which, let’s say, had fancied Nick as more than just a friend and keeper! After these events, he asked to take a lie down, and shortly realised he’d begun to nap with the pythons! We can say that experiences of first days are very different nowadays. For some, the most memorable moment might be the first time they feed a red panda, or hear the call of the gibbons. We think today’s advances in health and safety are certainly for the best!
The majority of our roles are built around our visitors, and, if you are a people-person, the experience has been described as “rewarding and enjoyable”. That’s not to say that volunteers who don’t work directly with the animals never get to enjoy them as well. Our Conservation Cabin, for example, is situated right in the heart of the animal park. Some have spent their quiet times watching our red pandas from the till, this in the past has included watching two sets of cubs get up to all sorts of mischief. Volunteers also often help us by supporting our annual animal fundraiser weekends where we raffle experiences, and are sometimes lucky enough to win them! Samantha was one of the first people to win a ‘meet and greet’ with our young black lemur, Zafy. Sam remembers the day vividly, and his playful antics have gone down in her Paradise Memories Hall of Fame – despite having him go to the toilet on her during this magical moment. She has also purchased discounted experiences with many animals including our tapirs and camels.
In the long run, some of our volunteers will go on to use their new knowledge and skills throughout their life. Emily hopes to continue working in zoos long into the future, and particularly with endangered species that are part of a breeding programme. She says, “to be part of a bigger picture in saving a species from extinction, feels like you are spending your time very well”. Others, such as Nick and Sam, hope to continue to volunteer at Paradise for as long as they can. And so in this sense, time as a volunteer can be absolutely priceless, and override the financial difficulties. Some volunteers are lucky enough to be secure, and more than capable of funding their position. Others might take on extra shifts at their paid jobs, or save up for a while in order to take on full-time positions such as internships. For those wanting to work with animals, it is a tough reality that most of us will need a volunteer position on our CV. Fortunately, if you manage to land a job, you will never think about what it cost you, but only what you gained.
Paradise volunteers come from all walks of life. Whether you are young or just feel like you’re 22 beneath the ‘experienced’ body, the one thing that they have all had to say about their experience, is that they would recommend it to anybody. Volunteering in general can be a way to make new friends, gain unique life skills (or exercise existing ones), and “participate in something you wouldn’t normally have been given the opportunity to do”. Whether you would like to volunteer at Paradise, or have been contemplating volunteering for another organisation, it is always worth your time! A volunteer’s efforts and dedication is always appreciated by the teams that they are supporting, and as cheesy as it sounds, ZSH really couldn’t work without them.
And so, this post is dedicated to all of our wonderful volunteers who help keep us ticking over, and who’s passion doesn’t go unnoticed. Thank you for all your hard work!
If you would like to volunteer at Paradise, please see a list of our available positions and the perks associated at:
For any further enquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to Amy Jerome our education officer here at Paradise Wildlife Park & the Zoological Society of Hertfordshire.