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AW: What are the qualities you look for when
you are recruiting volunteers?
SW: Although the environ ment is around
animals, the roles are very people-facing and
people-focussed. There are elements of interacting
with the animals, including animal handling and
animal encounters, but we really concentrate
on taking on volunteers who display strong
interpersonal skills and are confident in dealing
with the public both from within Australia and
those who are visiting Sydney from oversees.
While people may have a keen interest in wildlife,
we need that balance of customer service skills as
well as having a little passion – it does help.
AW: How is the work allocated to volunteers?
Is there competition for some of the animal-
SW: One week, one person may get to do the
pat-a-pet session. Another week, someone does
the lizard encounters and obviously people do
have preferences. It’s just about sharing the
different roles to keep it fair.
AW: What about some of the new areas that
Taronga is moving into such as Vivid, the outdoor
light and music festival in Sydney? What was
it like to organise the people side of such a big
“I often get
animal do you
And I normally
SW: In 2016, we held part of Vivid at Taronga
Zoo as we celebrated our 100th birthday. As
the date approached, we realised we needed a
lot more volunteers than we had. So we called
upon our partners such as ANZ bank who
provided a lot of their staff as volunteers. They
helped to direct visitors, issue wristbands and,
impor tantly, told people about volunteering
and how they can help wildlife.
We had overwhelmingly positive feedback
about how great they were. How we got to
that point was through having really clear job
briefs – from how to begin your shift to what
you do in an evacuation. There were clear
expectations for each role and training was
critical, with one coordinator for ever y eight to
To provide a few sweeteners, we also offered
rewards to volunteers if they did a cer tain
number of shifts; they would get extra tickets
to the event for family or friends.
AW: How do you provide feedback to a large
SW: For the Taronga 100 program, we had
around 40 volunteers who, at the completion
of the program, had one-on-one meetings
to talk about their experience and what
they got out of it as well as to evaluate their
contribution to the success of the program.
With our larger pool of volunteers, a lot of
the feedback we give is on the fly. If we notice
someone doing something great, we commend
them at that point in time. And if we do have
a problem that arises, then there would be
a meeting held with our guest experience
coordinator and myself to talk through the
nature of the situation and what resolutions the
volunteer would like to make to rectify it. But
it doesn’t happen very often.
AW: People and animals, you seem to deal very
well with both of them. Which is easier?
SW: It’s funny you should ask that. On the
train to and from work, because I wear my
uniform, I often get asked by strangers: What
animal do you work with? And I normally say
homo sapiens, and they look at me a bit funny.
I guess my answer is that humans are very
complex creatures. We all are.
AW: And what is your favourite animal in the
SW: My favourite animal at the zoo here
would have to be our seals. I just find them very
charismatic. I love their personalities. I really
like seals. •••
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