Flicking through the pages of the newspaper, an ad caught my eye.
‘Taronga Zoo is in need of volunteers,’ I said to my husband, Peter.
It was 1975 and, born in Basel, Switzerland, I’d studied languages and worked at the Interpreter School in Zurich, then as a secretary in international business, before moving to Australia in the 60s.
Having been a stay-at-home mum to my teenage son, my language skills had dwindled.
‘Helping out at the zoo and meeting visitors from all over the world would be a great way to brush up on my German, Swiss and French,’ I said.
‘I think it’s a great idea and it’ll be interesting, too,’ he replied.
Having visited Taronga Zoo, a not-for-profit, several times, I’d grown fond of the animals, especially the Australian wildlife, and wanted to help promote the importance the zoo plays in animal conservation.
So at 41, I submitted my application and was accepted!
I attended lectures, learning about animals’ diets, behaviour, reproduction and habitat. We also learned about how the zoo operated, and were taught how to give animal tour talks.
On my first day, perched on the wall by the sea birds exhibit, donning my Zoo Guide badge, I waited for visitors to gather for a tour.
Soon a lone overseas tourist approached. Terrified, I clutched my notebook and took him from the koalas to the kangaroos and then on to the bird enclosures.
At the end, I was abuzz – I loved sharing my new-found knowledge!
Seeing visitors’ eyes light up at a kangaroo on its tail playfully boxing the air, or hearing a lion let out a mighty roar, was a treat and filled me joy.
It became my favourite day of the week and now, 48 years on, I love it just as much as day one!
No two shifts are ever the same. Sometimes I’ll be in the visitor information centre. Or I’ll be at the Aussie animals or the big cat section to answer questions.
I’m even on hand to help keepers with animal encounters, like snapping the perfect shot when our 5.2m giraffe swoops in for a carrot from a visitor’s hand.
I still manage to steal time with my favourite critters – the platypus and echidna.
Did you know they are the only egg-laying mammals in the world?
I’m honoured and proud to say I’m Taronga’s longest-serving volunteer. It’s a privilege to be able to support the zoo and its animal conservation work.
I’ve made so many like-minded friends, and I find it very rewarding meeting people from all over the world.
Being a volunteer is the most worthwhile and enjoyable thing I’ve done – everyone should be one! ●
Find out more about Taronga Zoo's volunteering programme