Divisional updates

Here are updates from some of the departments at Taronga that work closely with volunteers.  Many of our volunteers are able to be involved in some really important and sensitive work, and some of these projects have not yet been publicised beyond the zoo, please be aware of any sensitive information and keep between Taronga Volunteers and staff.

Once news appears on the Taronga official website e.g. via blogs, you can chat about it to anyone and everyone.

Trunk Calls

The October edition of this staff and volunteer newsletter can be found here.  Animal updates, births, deaths, moves, breeding, exciting new initiatives can all be found there.  There is also fascintating info on what the volunteers in those areas have been working on below, give yourself some time, a cuppa and happy reading!


Behavioural Science Unit

Firstly, a big ‘thank you’ to our new Life Sciences observational volunteers! We hope you enjoy your time watching carnivores and primates!

Our present six-month study will allow our volunteers the opportunity to describe, independently and in their own words, the emotional states of the elephants. The method, called 'free choice profiling', has previously been used to validate if and how we perceive our pets’ emotions, but this will be a first time use for exotic animals.

Future studies include a look into the individual personalities of our Australian Sea-lions.  Each of our animals has a unique personality, by which we mean an individual animal’s consistent and repeatable behaviour, and an increased understanding of this can tell us a lot about animal welfare and conservation.

You can read more about this teams work in their September/October newsletter.


Bush Care

Bushcare Team

Our Bush Care Volunteers have been hard at work at two sites – the Artists’ camp on Little Sirius Cove and along the lower path to the Sky Safari. Volunteers have been meeting monthly on Wednesdays and Sundays to assist in restoring the remnant native vegetation by removing weeds such as lantana (Lantana camara), madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia), green cestrum (Cestrum parqui) and asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus). Future work will include the planting of local native seedlings and on-going weed and rubbish removal at both sites.

Caring for the 5.6ha of native bushland along the foreshore is not just important for keeping the zoo looking beautiful. Restoring the natural vegetation provides food and shelter for a variety of local native wildlife, particularly small bird species such as wrens and quail, which have been seen returning to the area. Continuous work by the Bush Care team is necessary to support the biodiversity of native plant and animal species along the harbour foreshore, so new volunteers are always welcome!


Backyard to Bush

Recently the Backyard to Bush volunteers have been assisting with preventative medicine catch ups, as well as helping with the re-mulching of the kangaroo yard. They’ve also been doing a great job helping new goat kid on the block, Frankie, have positive and engaging interactions with visitors.

The developments at the Education Centre are coming along nicely. All the reptiles have been moved in to the newly completed dens, and are settling in to their new homes nicely.

The Bird Show

Gina and Marco at the Bird Show

Our volunteers are a big asset to us down at the Bird Show, which is why we have our volunteers work with us weekly. Their primary focus is learning the ‘Trainer 4’ role within our shows, which means they are vital. This involves remotely releasing birds (and rats), operating our sound system and potentially handling some of our parrots. A number of our volunteers are currently doing this with either Marco, our White-tailed Black Cockatoo, or Jasper and Jojo, our duo of coin-stealing galahs.

Another massive help is being our volunteer during training sessions. The past few months have seen Dragon, one of two Sooty Owls, debut in the Bird Show. Taronga has never displayed these eerie birds before, so it is very exciting for us and their primary trainer Grey. With Dragon in shows, her sister Phoenix is next up. To get her ready our volunteers have been the “guinea pigs”. We’ve been having our volunteer sit on a stump (where our zoo guest pulled from the audience will sit) as Phoenix flies over her head to land on the perch behind them. Having people around the birds are less familiar with aids in getting them confident enough for the show.  Click here to read more about Taronga’s Sooty Owls.

We’ve also been using the same tactic recently with our Wedge-tailed Eagles. We haven’t had a Wedge-tail in shows for over a year now, but we’ve been lucky enough to have three that are currently in training. Just like not all people are meant to be actors, not all birds are meant to be in a bird show, so they may not work out. We need to see how well they fly and if they are easily distracted. To evaluate this we train our eagles on site and then eventually off-site, at parks surrounding Mosman. Our volunteers have been helping us transport and set-up at these sites, as well as manage crowds and assist in the event of a fly-off. It can happen, luckily only every now and then, so learning how to track becomes a part of the everyday too. Always something happening!  


Marine Mammals

Ben Haynes, one of Marine Mammals’ valued volunteers, gives an update on some of the things volunteers in the unit have been involved in:

There is no such thing as a typical day for a volunteer with the Marine Mammal team.  Of course, you have your routine tasks which are required - cleaning buckets and equipment, packing pouches and washing windows - although what happens between routine tasks can be variable week by week.  You could be chopping fish, helping with or observing training sessions, feeding Little Penguins, helping with exhibit maintenance, preparing medication for sick animals or using your creativity to make enrichment for the animals.  There is always something new happening in Marine Mammals and either way you can be sure to have an interesting day!


Wildlife Hospital

Welcome to Allie Cooke and Jules Sanders – two new volunteers to a newly created volunteer position assisting Vanessa Di Giglio, the Administrative Assistant at the Taronga Wildlife Hospital.

Allie and Jules have been learning the admin ropes at TWH, including answering phone enquiries, wildlife admissions, accepting deliveries, meeting and greeting visitors to the hospital, photocopying and filing duties. I think they will both agree that their knowledge of taxonomy and wildlife issues has increased exponentially, just in their first month on board.

Their training hasn’t come without a hitch, however, as I failed to explain that for external calls, you need to dial a “0” first to get a line out.  No wonder they couldn’t return any phone calls!  Thankfully Allie and Jules haven’t held it against me – I think!

These two volunteers have already made a huge difference to my workload and I look forward to further training and expanding this position as we go.

Thanks for all your help Allie and Jules.


Research and conservation

Wendy Newton has recently started as a volunteer in the Research and Conservation Department.  Here’s her account of how she’s been getting on so far…

As I set foot in the Conservation Science and Wildlife Research Department, the Field Conservation Grant applications for 2013 were arriving from around the world.  I had the task of reading through the myriad of applications, collating data and assisting the judging panel with judging the applications.  It was fascinating reading about all the conservation and research projects that were planned or already in motion by the various organisations.  In particular, the Kimberly Ark project sparked my interest as it was one of the few Australian-based projects and is looking at gathering DNA from three species of monitor lizards in the Kimberly region that have been affected by the cane toad invasion.  A number of projects were from African and South American countries that I have visited on my travels which brought back fond memories of the animals I have encountered in those places although, a majority of the projects focus on the negative effects of humans on those animals and their environment, which is why the grants are so important.

Currently, I am working on some content and Web design elements to help spruce up the Conservation Science section of the Taronga website which should allow me to put some of my graphic design skills into action.  I am enjoying the range of activities I have encountered and I am lucky enough to have an office space with a view which enables me to watch the array of weather changes that take place in Sydney Harbour.  I have attended a variety of meetings and met keepers, researchers and other Taronga personnel, all of whom have been very friendly and helpful.

I am looking forward to many more days of volunteering with Taronga and expanding my skills and knowledge in a zoo based research environment which complements my zoo keeping and science background.  Hopefully, by the time this goes to press I will have completed my Postgraduate Certificate in Captive Animal Management.  It has been an interesting first few months volunteering at Taronga. Cheers Taronga, I am loving life as a Taronga volunteer.


Australian Fauna

Every school holidays visitors flock to the zoo, and the Australian Walkthrough exhibit for kangaroos and wallabies is very popular.  Here visitors can get up close to the animals without any barriers.  This is fantastic, however some visitors get a little over-excited and need a spot of supervision to make sure everyone is getting along well.  Our wonderful volunteers have been dedicating their afternoons to make sure our animals get the best care possible, while also getting to spend an afternoon with the animals.  We couldn’t do it without our fantastic volunteers!  A huge thanks to everyone who has helped out in the last year, and don’t worry, with Christmas and busy January coming up there are plenty of afternoons for you all to come help out too!



Primate team would like to thank members of the Visitor Services Volunteer team who dealt with the curious crowd when the chimp, Sembe, got tangled up on the climbing structure on Tuesday 5th November. Thanks to everyone, Sembe was quickly untangled and returned to the group after a veterinary checks where she could be seen the next day dipping a long stick into the termite mound. 

 “They did an excellent job and made life easier for the response team. Can you please pass on our gratitude.”- Nick Boyle

Taronga Zoo primate keepers watched early one morning last week as the newest member of the Zoo’s renowned Chimpanzee group was born to mother, Kuma.

Keepers had just arrived at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary to start their daily routine and observations when Kuma delivered what keepers believe is a healthy young male.  The experienced mother cradled the infant while other chimpanzees including her son, Furahi, 10, looked on with interest.

Taronga primate keeper, Katie Hooker, said: “At 7.30am, we were continuing to monitor Kuma ‘s pregnancy in the exhibit where she was sitting on one of the climbing structures, about eight metres off the ground. Suddenly, she gave birth, easily reaching down to bring her new baby up onto her chest. It took about four minutes.”

“We’ve just been keeping everything normal and low key to support Kuma and let her settle the newcomer into the group. She’s been doing all the right things, grooming and feeding the baby.”

Chimpanzees have highly structured family groups and mothering is a learned experience. As the granddaughter of the former matriarch, Fifi, Kuma is well-placed in the hierarchy of the group.

Zoo visitors may be able to catch glimpses of the baby straight away as Kuma has been the Sanctuary’s exhibit since the birth.

Taronga Director, Cameron Kerr, said: “This is great news for our chimpanzee group, and adds to our conservation efforts that increasingly operate here at the zoo and in the wild.”

“Only yesterday a Taronga vet arrived at the Jane Goodall Foundation’s Tchimpounga Rehabilitation Centre in the Congo to treat chimpanzees for the latest release into the sanctuary. Our Construction Manager will arrive next month to help manage the building of the next part of the sanctuary.”

Taronga Foundation is also is providing financial support for Tchimpounga with $150,000 in funding over five years from 2011 as well as sending veterinarians, zoo keepers, construction specialists, electricians and volunteers to work at the sanctuary.”

Chimpanzees are humans’ nearest relatives sharing over 98.5 % of the same DNA. Sadly they are increasingly endangered in the wild from habitat loss, the bushmeat trade and the illegal pet trade, which often sees young chimps abandoned or seized in poor physical and mental health.

Dr Goodall sent a message to Taronga on the opening of its refurbished Chimpanzee Sanctuary in September 2011 saying: “Taronga Zoo's chimpanzee community is well respected around the world. This new exhibit is very exciting and is filled with potential for the chimpanzees. I have come to know these chimpanzees well and I wish I was there today to see how they first react to their new home”.

More Information: Taronga’s Chimpanzee Sanctuary: http://taronga.org.au/news/2011-09-28/tarongas-chimps-revel-renovated-exhibit  

Taronga’s Tchimpounga Work: http://taronga.org.au/support-us/corporate-sponsorship/our-corporate-partners/zoobiz-winter-2011/jane-goodall-visits-taronga/taronga-helps-fund-jane-g