Lion hold purple papier mache elephant in mouth

“Deuce,” a lion at the Blank Park Zoo, enjoys his  purple papier-mache elephant.

A group of Grinnell College student volunteers, called the Volunteer Enrichment Team (VET), recently received Blank Park Zoo’s ROAR Award in recognition of their exceptional contribution and commitment to the zoo and its mission.

VET includes student volunteers and two service-learning work study students who direct the program:

  • Miranda Thomas ’17, a biology major who is applying to veterinary school this year
  • Sunny Zhao ’18, a biology major who is interested in pursuing biology and museum studies

Now led by Thomas and Zhao, VET has been working with Blank Park Zoo since 2012. VET was founded to connect College students to the zoo, while helping the zoo’s keeper staff and providing animals with unique enrichment items.

This team has made a variety of items throughout the years, including small papier-mâché items like butterflies and eggs to larger papier-mâché items, including a zebra for the zoo’s tiger to stalk and destroy. VET plays an important role in teaching the zoo’s guests about animal enrichment and students have staffed information tables during some special events. 

Started in 2014, the Blank Park Zoo’s ROAR Award is awarded each year to volunteer groups who contribute through strength in numbers and dedication of time and energy to the zoo’s mission. Mark Vukovich, the CEO of the zoo, Jim Hourgian, a board member, and Chris Eckles, the volunteer manager, select the winner each year.

“Blank Park Zoo appreciates all the hard work and time that the VET team puts into making enrichment items for the animals,” says Chris Eckles, volunteer manager at Blank Park Zoo and VET’s nominator. “Enrichment is an important part of the animal’s daily care ​and it’s great to have creative support from the Grinnell students!”

“To us, the ROAR award acknowledges the amount of work and fun we have all had over the lifetime of the group, and reinforces the positive impact we have on both the animals and the staff at the Blank Park Zoo,” says Thomas. “It’s nice to hear that the animals have benefited from the time and effort we have given as a group, that we have supported fundraising for the animals and their needs, that we have helped the keepers take even better care of the animals, and that we have contributed to the Blank Park Zoo’s mission of conservation, education and recreation.”

VET’s most recent visit to the zoo took place last weekend, with students providing a papier-mache elephant for a lion and creating enrichment items for animals and birds to be used during the holiday season.

Photos courtesy of Jessie Yang ’17

Share / Discuss