How a brush with wildlife at Australia Zoo is firing La Trobe students’ passion for conservation and boosting their career prospects
Partnership at a glance
- As part of their Animal and Veterinary Bioscience studies, La Trobe students have the opportunity to volunteer at Australia Zoo, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
- Nearly 50 students have taken up the rewarding placement since the program began in 2017. They help out with a range of tasks including animal care, food preparation and cleaning, getting first-hand professional experience from expert staff over several weeks.
- Australia Zoo regards the collaboration with La Trobe as an important part of its commitment to education and its mission to promote animal conservation worldwide.
- La Trobe students not only provide much-appreciated help, they bring energy and passion which in turn inspires the Australia Zoo team.
- The Australia Zoo experience opens students’ minds to a range of career possibilities and they benefit from their connection to a global conservation leader with a reputation for animal welfare excellence.
From washing an elephant with a scrubbing brush to counting kangaroos, La Trobe student Emily Wade knows her time as a volunteer at Australia Zoo was no ordinary academic credit. Working with animals and the passionate experts who care for them opened her mind to exciting new possibilities.
“I’d never found birds that interesting. But in my time at Australia Zoo, I was surprised by how intelligent they are. I always thought they were just things that flapped and scared me,” Wade laughs.
Up to that point, her Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience coursework had focused on domestic animals and livestock. Helping bathe an elephant under the watchful eye of keepers was unforgettable. “The experience was so good, they sold me on working with wildlife,” she says.
Wade’s experience is the ideal outcome Alistair Lavers strives for. As head of the Department of Education and Volunteers at Australia Zoo, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, he sees the La Trobe volunteer program as an important part of the zoo’s overall commitment to education and the embodiment of its values and priorities.
Our role is to get as many people as passionate about wildlife conservation as we possibly can, and the La Trobe program is one way that we do that.
“We understand that people are motivated to make change if it's personal, if they are excited and can connect with a concept directly. That's what Australia Zoo is all about and what my department is all about.”
La Trobe’s connection with Australia Zoo – the passion project of global wildlife warrior Steve Irwin and his family – began in 2017, and since then nearly 50 students have made the 70-hour commitment. Lavers says they mostly work with the Australasian mammals or birds. On any day they might be checking the welfare of the zoo’s many kangaroos, helping prepare food or caring for cassowary chicks.
The university’s connection with the zoo has been so successful there are discussions about extending the program to involve students from other disciplines, such as marketing and communications.
Australia Zoo benefits from its La Trobe relationship in the most obvious way by having extra, very willing hands. But as Lavers explains, connecting with students provides its staff with a welcome motivation boost and reminds them of their central mission: sharing the conservation message.
“Seeing young people from La Trobe come through who want to learn and are already passionate, and then seeing them leave after having an excellent experience, wanting to come back or really using that information that they've gained from us … it reminds us that we make a difference.”
La Trobe students like Emily Wade get hands-on experience with wildlife, meet passionate, knowledgeable staff and see the possibilities for their own careers. Experience in an organisation with a strong global reputation for conservation and excellence in animal welfare is powerful.
“With its size and diversity of wildlife, Australia Zoo can provide information on many different species. In the modern world, knowledge is king. The more you know, the more set up you are to be a professional in the field,” says Lavers.
“If volunteers are motivated, then they'll get a huge amount out of it.”
Emily Wade agrees. “You have to be willing to work hard, but the little moments you enjoy with the animals make it all worthwhile.”
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