Blank Park Zoo
Blank Park Zoo

The Volunteer Enrichment Team from Grinnell College

Posted on April 19, 2021 at 9:26 AM by Blog Author

The Blank Park Zoo has many amazing, dedicated volunteers and partnerships, however one of the lesser-known partnerships is with Grinnell College (Grinnell, IA) in the form of a Volunteer Enrichment Team. Typically consisting of two college-student leaders organizing a group of student volunteers, this team works to create many enrichment items for animals at the Zoo. 

Enrichment is the process of providing stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. In Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos and aquariums enrichment is as critical to an animal's well-being as having the right food and medical care. Starting around 2015, the student volunteer team has been creating enrichment items at the college, visiting the zoo and bringing the completed items once a month. Some notable past projects the Enrichment Team has completed have included semi-life life paper mache zebras for big cats, paper mache eggs for the Eggstravaganza event, and most recently a cardboard cake for Kamara’s first birthday in 2020.


Paper MacheCake for Kamara

There have been many student team leaders since the program’s start, but one of the earliest was Miranda Thomas, currently a fourth year Veterinary student at Iowa State. Miranda was one of the driving factors in the official organization of the program. In her time as the team leader, she worked to incorporate an understanding behind purpose driven enrichment. She did this by thinking behind the process of encouraged behaviors and species’ needs, such as safety and material concerns. Describing her experience as team leader as “Challenging but rewarding -- as someone interested in the animal care side … it was a lot of leadership and people coordination I had never done before,”, Miranda explained that her work with Blank Park Zoo helped to solidify her desire to go to Veterinary school following her completion of her undergraduate degree at Grinnell College. 

The Volunteer Enrichment Team allows college students to be involved with the Zoo as volunteers despite Grinnell being roughly an hour away. Although the Zoo’s partnership with Grinnell has looked different since the emergence of COVID-19, we’re hopeful that the enrichment team will soon be back in action doing the important work of creating items to be used in animal enrichment! 

Zoe Gonzalez
Volunteer Enrichment Team Student Leader
Grinnell College '23

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