‘I get enormous pleasure spending my free time sharing my passion for the natural world’

Posted on the 5th June 2021

Every week I know I am going to have a fantastic Sunday. That’s because for nearly six years I have been a volunteer at ZSL London Zoo.

As a volunteer, I get the enormous pleasure of spending my free time doing something I love – sharing my passion for the natural world with, well, anyone who will listen! Every shift I’m doing my bit to make sure visitors to the zoo have a fantastic day out.

This can be as simple as pointing out the direction of the café. Other times, it’s about using my knowledge of the animals to inspire someone to think more about the natural world around them, and even sometimes to change someone’s mind or behaviour.

The role I’ve played in volunteering

During the pandemic, volunteering has become even more important. I’ve played a role in helping put people at ease about our safety measures on-site. I’ve also been making sure that the zoo can get back to inspiring people. In turn, this has helped to fund ZSL’s important conservation and science work across the globe.

Over the years I’ve seen thousands of children and young people visiting the zoo. I know that I have a role in helping them leave excited about protecting the world they live in and the animals who share it with us. It reminds me of how I was inspired by childhood visits to the zoo to become a conservationist.

I try to recapture that sense of wonder and amazement of the natural world – something that children do so well – and for our adult visitors too. This can be pointing out a camouflaged animal, or letting them feel the scales of a snakeskin, or showing them the tusks of a hippo.

Leaving visitors excited about the world they live in and getting through to people is what I love about volunteering.

What I’ve got from volunteering

I have personally gotten so much back from volunteering. I’ve made close friends and met people from all sorts of backgrounds and generations. I’ve also learned so much from each of them.

Knowing I have volunteering planned for the weekend, knowing that in my own little way I can make a difference, has been a boost to my own wellbeing and health. It’s true what they say – volunteering is good for you!

I now work for the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums and work to share and enhance the important conservation and environmental work of zoos. Sometimes I get asked if volunteering on top of this feels like my day job – but it doesn’t at all.

Talking everyday about the conservation work undertaken by the zoo to visitors made me better at my job, and I have no doubt helped me become a conservation communicator in the first place!

Getting to spend time around animals and nature is an enormous privilege. So many people don’t have that chance and increasingly fewer will grow up with the opportunities to see tigers, gibbons, or a coral reef in action as they become rarer and rarer in the wild. I’m reminded of this whenever I volunteer, and I go away inspired every time.

If you’re interested in learning about your local zoo and conservation work, this Volunteers’ Week coincides with Love Your Zoo Week. This nationwide event seeks to promote the important work of zoos, aquariums, wildlife and safari parks. See #LoveYourZooWeek to learn more.

Finally, thank you to all volunteers this Volunteers’ Week!

Andy Hall

Volunteer, ZSL London Zoo

Andy has volunteered at ZSL zoo for almost six years. He also works for the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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