Midgley completes capstone project on a unique zoo experience

Senior Mariah Midgley got a unique opportunity for her capstone project. She became a Zoo Aide, a teen volunteer at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Teens ages 13 to 17 have to apply and interview to become a Zoo Aide, then complete a total of 60 hours of service around different areas of the zoo.

  Midgley discussed the interview process and her favorite part of her experience as a Zoo Aide.

  “It was a bit nerve wracking. The process involves an interview, and it is selective, so it can be hard to put yourself out there,” she explained. “The best part was seeing people connect with the animals. I love the wonder on people’s faces when meeting one of our animals up close.”

A lorikeet. Courtesy of Mariah Midgley.

  As a Zoo Aide, teens can work in the lorikeet and pheasant aviaries, kangaroo walk about, manatee coast, touch pool, stingray bay, habitat hollow, my barn, giraffe shamba, and the reptile lab. Volunteers are permitted to go up to three times a week, choosing between a seven hour or four hour day. Midgley and her fellow volunteers completed a wide variety of tasks during that time, from counting the number of guests entering the zoo to assisting guests pet stingrays. For example, she helped set up a children’s scavenger hunt in the Habitat Hollow area. Above all, Midgley’s job as a Zoo Aide was to assist the guests and make their visit as great as she could.

 Midgley’s favorite area to help out in was Australia and the Islands, where guests can interact with lorikeets in an enclosed aviary. She shared her favorite memory during her time as a Zoo Aide.

  “I love watching someone having fun with a bird on their arm. My favorite memory is of this lorikeet in the Australian aviary. She’s really friendly, so she hopped on my shoulder while I was working the door and started licking my ear.”

  Despite all the fun that she had, Midgley did have a few difficulties along the way. She said that the hardest part of the job was when guests got angry with her for things outside of her control. Even so, Midgley really enjoyed her time as a Zoo Aide. This was her second round of volunteering for the zoo, and she has come away with many great memories.

  “Manatees don’t do much, and as a result, people usually pass them by after a quick glance,” she wrote in one of her journal entries for the final project, “This often upsets me, because there is so much more to manatees, and each one has a very real story.”

Cadbury (left) and Stubby (right). Courtesy of Mariah Midgley.

  In that journal entry, Midgley was talking about Stubby and Cadbury, the resident manatees at the Columbus Zoo. On Easter weekend, 2014, Cadbury the manatee was abandoned by his mother and rescued by the zoo. Stubby, who lost three quarters of her tail to a boat propeller, acts as a surrogate mother for Cadbury. She has taken to being a mother very well, teaching Cadbury how to do all kinds of manatee things. Midgley wrote, “I love seeing Cadbury and Stubby make a difference; they’re my heros.”

  She also shared a story about Beatrice the kangaroo. On busy days, Midgley sometimes has helped out the adult workers and guards with the kangaroos, keeping the guests a safe distance away. She and the other workers have to keep at least three feet from the animals, but that didn’t stop her from keeping the guests engaged in learning about the kangaroos.

Beatrice the kangaroo. Courtesy of Mariah Midgley

  “It’s one thing to learn about kangaroos through books, talking, or the internet, but it’s incredible to learn about them when one is laying right next to you,” she continued, “Everyone’s so amazed and pleased when they see Beatrice sitting there, and I love to watch that.”

  These are just a few of the stories Midgley was able to take home with her after her time volunteering at the zoo. You can check out Midgley’s full project here. She enjoyed her time as a Zoo Aide immensely and would recommend everyone try it out if they have the opportunity.

  “I’d absolutely recommend this to others! It’s magical watching people and animals connect.”
  Midgley will continue her love of animals at the University of Findlay, where she will study Pre-Veterinary Medicine.

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