Volunteering with Animals
Recently I've seen and heard a somewhat concerning trend towards folks thinking it "shameful" or "outrageous"that animal organisations such as zoos, encounters companies and such like, offer volunteer placements. Shameful, because paid positions are not being offered up to just anyone who asks for them. As someone who has completed hundreds of hours of internships, volunteer placements and work experience over a number of years, alongside studying a diploma, degree and various other certifications to get where I am in the industry, and as someone who continues to volunteer to this day for the pleasure of partaking in community work and conservation, and for my own enrichment and ongoing learning, I find this both fascinating, and upsetting. I wonder if the people who think organisations should be paying their volunteers make an assumption that animal care is easy or demeaning? I wonder if these same people would think charity shops and community care organisations should pay all the people that give their time to help for free? I wonder if they also attack zoos for offering paid animal experiences to guests, or universities and college programmes charging for the courses they run that help folks get educated and certified for the careers of their choice?
Life as an animal professional is HARD. It's a highly skilled profession and one of the most competitive careers out there with many more hopeful applicants than there are jobs available and here's the catch- low wages, work usually includes holidays, weekends and evenings (as a given if you're running your own business)- it's not a job, it's a lifestyle choice, and to achieve a paid position you need to be adequately prepared to do the job properly! It's physically, mentally and emotionally extremely challenging and we're all expected to come in with not only formal qualifications but also hundreds of hours of volunteering, work experience or internships under our belts to even be considered for an interview. Why?
Volunteering and studying courses provides the opportunity to get the foundations and theoretical knowledge and physical skills needed to be able to do the job safely (for you, your co-workers, and the animals) and with better standard of welfare and effectiveness. Do you know how to provide correct nutrition for 30 plus different exotic species? How to spot when an animal is sick or injured? How to train and enrich animals correctly? How to deliver an educational talk or experience? Which animals need which supplements? How to properly clean a stable or enclosure for various different species? How to choose the correct browse? Monitor temperatures, humidity and UV in life support systems? Gut-loading feeder bugs or how to butcher a carcass? How to backwash a filter system? How to safely restrain a wild animal for veterinary treatment? How to properly transport an animal?
For the price of your time, volunteering offers all manner of rewarding experiences that make the poo picking, cleaning and scrubbing worthwhile! For many, it simply offers the chance to get out of the 9-5 office grind and into the outdoors to do something a bit physical, make new friends and experience magical moments with the animals. For those looking to enter a career in animal care, it provides the chance to grow and make mistakes in a supported, safe environment. It opens the door to mentorship, learning, inside information and networking opportunities that money can't buy, and allows you to try out working with different species in different spheres of industry without getting tied in, while you work out what suits you best, and it shows prospective employers that you're dedicated and willing to commit, and puts you on strong footing to succeed and get ahead once you land your first paid role too and get the edge over your competitors.
The number one piece of advice we give to anyone seeking to work with animals professionally is volunteer first- it's the absolute best way to start your learning journey and get your foot in the door!
Here at Reptiles Etc we have an amazing team of volunteers for a variety of backgrounds, who help us out with everything from animal care to educational outreach and even film assignments. They get to assist with veterinary procedures and training, and we offer mentorship through their ongoing career journeys, references, skills records and a timesheet to log their hours to help build their professional portfolios. Many keep coming back to us even once they enter full time careers with animals elsewhere, proving that working with animals really isn't just about the money. We are so proud of our volunteers and the community we have created by offering these opportunities to those willing to work hard for the rewards, and our volunteer scheme remains an important part of our education mission.
For more information about careers and volunteering, check out the "careers" section on our website.