Hey y’all! I’m Allyson, a 4th-year biology major currently abroad in Perth, Australia. My interests include animal behavior, conservation, and management, which is exactly what I’m studying at the University of Western Australia! Apart from school and studies, I’m a volunteer at Caversham Wildlife Park (CWP), an accredited member of the Zoo Aquarium Association, and I just completed my first shift! Anyone who’s worked with animals before knows realistically, entry-level positions involve a lot of cleaning. And koala poop. Today was no different.
I started off my morning sweeping koala enclosures. Remarkably, koalas are rather clean and not as smelly as some other animals I’ve worked with before, so they were a great start to my day. Even as they were sleeping and hidden among the foliage, the koala handlers greet each one by name. Impressive, considering I’m still trying to learn the difference between Northern and Southern koalas.
Then, I moved onto an interaction where I was trained on the blue-tongued lizards. I was so excited when little kids came and asked questions! I could see my 6-year-old self who used to volunteer to hold the big pythons or baby alligators when a reptile show visited school. Look at me now! After the interaction ended, I had to clean up after the rest of the animals in there and I learned so much from just cleaning up after each animal. The different needs for frugivores versus carnivores, and climbing animals versus ground animals is quite stark. Getting to interact with and watch these animals while I’m cleaning makes me feel more motivated to do it. It’s an honor for me to clean up after quolls or wombats.
After a quick lunch, I spent the rest of the day back with the koalas doing more cleaning and helping with koala encounters! Changing out tree branches for them to eat takes a very long time. The amount of eucalyptus CWP goes through in a day is astounding. Each enclosure needs branches for eating, and branches for warmth and hiding. Some female koalas were holding baby joeys all along and I didn’t see them until we changed out the branches. Right now, they’re about nine months old and have outgrown mom’s pouch so they ride on her back or front. During encounters, certain koalas that are docile and used to being held (usually hand-raised) come out for just half an hour. Guests can take a picture with a koala as they’re sitting on their perch, or more usually, hanging onto their handler. Koalas can be finicky and love cuddles from their favorite handlers.
All in all, it was a great day! I couldn’t have been prouder to clean as much koala poop as I did. I love animals – of course I’ll do anything for them. Had I not gone abroad, I would not have had an opportunity like this. And this is exactly the experiential learning I want. Volunteering today really reinforced in me that working with animals is what I want to do. So, yes, there are really interesting classes abroad, but there’s more! Volunteering was a one-off for me, and I wasn’t even sure I’d be accepted in after applying, but I can already say CWP is and will continue to enrich my experience here in Perth.
Allyson Gunderson is a 2019 Global Ambassador. She is a biology major studying at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia.
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