Zoo volunteer celebrates 20 years of service
Jean Wilson has had many a sleepless night wondering how to keep an orangutan entertained.
For 20 years, Wilson has been volunteering for Auckland Zoo’s Primate Behavioural Enrichment Programme.
The programme encourages and stimulates natural behaviours in the animals.
In the wild, orangutans often use tools, like sticks, to get food. To replicate this in the zoo environment, enrichments like pine cones, fabric packages, tubing and boxes containing small amounts of food are used.
Wilson helped to pioneer the programme, which launched in 1997, and believes Auckland Zoo is still a world leader on the behavioural enrichment front.
‘‘Really, I would like to go into all the zoos and change the way they do things,’’ Wilson said.
The 75-year-old is at the zoo twice a week creating enrichments, and, over her time involved, she has seen the primates change and the zoo’s practices evolve.
The programme started with chimpanzees - before the chimps moved to Hamilton Zoo in 2004 - and has grown to encompass orangutans, siamang gibbons, spider monkeys, lemurs, tamarins and baboons.
‘‘Lots of primates are quite intelligent. But I don’t think the orangutans want us to know how smart they are,’’ Wilson said.
Wilson takes satisfaction from the primates interacting with her latest creations, knowing she is helping to make a difference in their lives.
‘‘They never do what you think they will do,’’ she said.
Wilson, who lives in Unsworth Heights on Auckland’s North Shore, is one of 45 Auckland Zoo volunteers who have spent more than a decade helping out.
Volunteers are the zoo’s biggest workforce, Wilson said.
Over the past financial year, across the zoo, approximately 230 volunteers contributed 36,000 hours - which is equivalent to 16 full-time staff.
The Behavioural Enrichment Programme needs more volunteers who are detailorientated animal lovers who understand the importance of following instructions.
To volunteer either fill out an online application form or call 09 353 2090 or email Volunteer.Coordinator@aucklandzoo.co.nz.
Jean Wilson, 75, has been volunteering for Auckland Zoo for 20 years, helping to create enrichments for the primates, like this pine cone stuffed with fruit.