We won?t cut back on our volunteers

ROCKHAMPTON zoo management have bitten back at an industry insider's call to cull volunteer numbers at the city attraction.

Instead of getting rid of volunteers, like 17-year-old Nick Squires, zoo co-ordinator Simon Walton has vowed to increase numbers.

Mr Walton said without volunteers zoo standards would drop. Taronga Zoo's Australian mammal senior keeper Vicki Hudnall made the call to "restrict volunteer numbers'' in a recent letter to Mr Walton following her working visit to the city last year.

She said the zoo was understaffed with volunteers tying up the valuable time of busy zoo keepers.

If her call had been adopted, people like Mr Squires could have become a dying breed.

He doesn't get paid for his efforts, which involve hard manual labour and getting his hands dirty.

Not that you would hear him complain, he thrives on helping. Mr Squires is one of a devoted band of more than 30 active volunteers.

(All up the zoo has about 80 on its books).

"I just love the work,'' the teenager, who has worked there for about seven months, said.

He hopes one day to have a career working with wildlife.

In her letter, Ms Hudnall said: "I'm sure that you are already more than aware the zoo is quite seriously understaffed.

"Volunteers need a high level of direction and supervision and keepers were struggling to keep them busy ... I saw the detrimental effects of volunteers who were not being utilised ? wandering in public areas, hassling keepers who were trying to work and disappearing for their own social catch-up.

"As hard as it is to turn down enthusiastic, hard workers, it may actually prove to be beneficial to the team to restrict the number of volunteers rostered on daily and create a better application and assessment process.''

Mr Walton said while he took on board Ms Hudnall's comments, he disagreed. "We only have enough money for five workers here, so the volunteers are essential,'' Mr Walton said.

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