Volunteers enjoy wild time at Edinburgh zoo

Volunteer Dorothy Crisp shares her knowledge with visitors David Graham and Logan Abraham. Picture: Scott Taylor

Volunteer Dorothy Crisp shares her knowledge with visitors David Graham and Logan Abraham. Picture: Scott Taylor

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THE valuable work of the 15 million people across the UK who give up their time freely to help others has been celebrated as part of National Volunteers Week.

While most people might associate volunteering with working in a charity shop, there are a number of individuals helping to deliver education and assistance at one of the city’s wildest attractions.

It might be best known for pandas and penguins, but Edinburgh Zoo is also one of thousands of places across Scotland that welcome volunteers on a daily basis. Suzie Crocker, a former helper at the attraction and now volunteer co­ordinator, said the vital support workers assisted in five areas: education, membership, garden, event and lessons.

All of the zoo’s volunteers are trained beforehand and are assisted by a more experienced colleague until they feel happy enough to become a fully fledged volunteer.

The zoo volunteer programme is now about 15 years old and has seen much diversification in recent years.

“We are looking to improve the programme,” said Suzie, who explained that while there is no formal recognition process for the programme at the moment, volunteers do benefit from such things as free access to zoo events.

“The old-fashioned view of having to be of a certain age to volunteer and that it’s in a charity shop is changing quite a bit.”

Norman Nicol, a retired former HR manager, has spent the past eight years volunteering with the zoo.

Members of the public bombard him with questions but he is happy to oblige, his passion for the zoo and its animals obvious even before speaking to him.

“The opportunity to enrich somebody’s visit is the biggest thing,” he said, describing what it is that makes him come back for more. “It has certainly enriched my life.”

The zoo has a wide spectrum of volunteers. Lauren Parry is 25 and has been with the zoo for two years, volunteering once a week and also helping out with Zoo Club on a Saturday, running teaching sessions for children between seven and ten years old to learn more about the animals.

In the Brilliant Birds enclosure, Dorothy Crisp and Judith Mitchell both volunteer once a week. Dorothy took up volunteering with the zoo following early retirement while Judith took it up when deciding whether to change career.

Dorothy said: “I was interested in animals. I think I had some knowledge before but Google is wonderful. What is key is having the passion for the animals and engaging with the public.”

For Judith, this has been her first volunteering experience but she is really enjoying it. She had been thinking of changing career and found this was the perfect opportunity for her to experience a different area and see if it was something she would like to go into full-time.

With 145 volunteers currently involved with the zoo, there is a true mix which is likely only to get bigger as time goes on. And the attraction is expected to hold a recruitment drive for new volunteers later in the year.

• newsen@edinburghnews.com