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Rachel White says being a volunteer guide at Auckland Zoo is a great way to share her love for animals and passion for conservation. It's also proven to be a real confidence booster. Having a mum who was a volunteer for many years, the 19-year-old grew up coming to Auckland Zoo. Now a second-year zoology student at Massey University, Rachel’s many childhood experiences have nurtured her love for wildlife and fuelled a dream to have a conservation-related career that involves working with animals.

How did you get into volunteering?

It was really a case of great timing, as soon after I turned 17 the Zoo introduced a new programme called The Tuatara Club for 15 to 17-year-olds. You need to be 18 or older to join the main volunteer programme, so this is a fantastic way for enthusiastic teenagers like myself to get into volunteering.    

Within the programme we learnt about the wonderful New Zealand species here. We got to experience talking to visitors, running quiz boards, and even got our hands dirty helping keep the Zoo clean by doing things like washing animal viewing windows. All of this was invaluable for transitioning over to the main volunteer programme where the knowledge I had learnt assisted me in passing my training. The other great thing is that you get to meet some really cool people and make new friends. 

What do you most love about volunteering?

I love being able to share my knowledge, meet different people, and get into conversations about the animals and also chat about the little things we can do in our everyday lives to help wildlife and the environment.  A lot of overseas tourists aren' t aware of how much we do for our native wildlife, or that New Zealand animals really need our help. I was recently chatting to some overseas visitors about Kauri dieback and that if visiting our Kauri forests, why it’s so important to use the footwear cleaning stations. Not everyone is aware of the significance of the Kauri dieback problem, and we really don’t want to lose these forests and habitat for our lovely native animals.  

How has volunteering helped you personally?  

I’ve learned so much, and actually a lot of the stuff I’ve learned about animals while volunteering has come up in my university course, in particular for one of my papers ‘animal form and function’, which has been super helpful.

The other main thing is that it’s been a real confidence booster. I now feel so much more relaxed going up and talking to people. I think there’s no better way to practice building your confidence than being able to share stuff that you’re passionate about.