Volunteering at Natureland Zoo has inspired a Nelson student to pursue a career caring for wild animals.
Cameron Hawken, 20, is studying a certificate in animal management, for captive wild animals, by correspondence with Unitec.
As part of his studies, he spends two days a week at Natureland for work experience.
The other days of the week are spent on bookwork and assignments.
"I'm loving it," he said, "I help out with monitoring the animals."
Yesterday he performed an ethogram on Bruce the kea to help understand his behaviour.
Mr Hawken had been volunteering at the zoo for a couple of months when he heard about the certificate from another keeper.
He said if Natureland closed, he would probably not be able to pass his course.
The zoo is under threat of shutting after its operator, Orana Wildlife Trust, decided last month it would pull out this year.
The Nelson City Council, which owns Natureland, is seeking expressions of interest from other organisations or an alternative use for the Tahunanui site. It has set up a working group to look at options and make recommendations on possible future options by the end of November.
There are about 10 zoos around the country Mr Hawken could spend time at to clock up his work experience hours, the closest being Wellington Zoo.
He said he could not afford to move to Wellington.
Volunteers outnumber the staff at Natureland by about three to one.
Operations manager Gail Sutton started as a volunteer more than 20 years ago.
"It's a real community organisation. I've always tried to keep it that way."
She said there was a huge range of volunteers at the zoo. "The youngest is 12, we don't allow anyone younger than that, and the oldest on site is in their 50s."
Natureland also provides a pathway into the workforce for long-term beneficiaries.
"They're gaining confidence, brushing up on their work skills," Mrs Sutton said.
The zoo hosts a number of students, from local schools as well as veterinary students and people like Mr Hawken.
Mrs Sutton said young "wayward" people also spent time at Natureland doing community work.
"Some manage to turn around. They go away feeling good about themselves and the world," she said.
There is also a group of intellectually disabled people who work at Natureland and a Keeper Kids holiday programme which lets children experience zoo life.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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