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Barriers to Live Animal Handling Training for Zoo Volunteers

By Susanne C. Tygielski

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Zoos and museums utilize docents, or volunteer educators, to help educate and entertain visitors through live animal demonstrations. Preparing volunteers to handle live animals is complex because volunteers must learn animal handling techniques, emergency protocols, interpretive material, be able to simultaneously show and monitor the animal, talk about it, take visitor questions, and be aware of safety concerns. Zoos are held accountable for animal welfare as a priority as well as volunteer and visitor safety.This study investigated barriers to preparing adult volunteers to handle live animals at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Adult docents and training staff members were interviewed about their perceptions of barriers from the previous year's animal handling training. Ten individual docent interviews, two docent focus groups, and four staff member interviews provided information about animal handling training challenges.Barriers included the resistance to change; specifically volunteers needed to recognize why changes in protocols were necessary so they would support changes. Volunteers expressed the desire to be part of the change with staff members rather than having protocols delivered to them. Miscommunication was a second barrier, originating from lack of consistent communication systems and volunteers feeling left out of the change process. Another barrier was volunteers' perception of authority in that volunteers invested time questioning staff about program changes based on staff qualifications rather than utilizing their time working with the animals. A fourth barrier was that volunteers shared that they felt pressure to perform or else they feel as though they failed part of their volunteer job. Finally recognizing that volunteers learn in different ways was a fifth barrier and many volunteers suggested the need to address a variety of learning styles.Adult learning theory provided a theoretical framework from which the barriers could be investigated. Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory (1984) suggests that volunteers need to have animal handling training lessons presented with different teaching techniques or styles. Investing time into training staff about learning theories and teaching techniques may circumvent struggles with volunteers learning new techniques.


Katie Carroll

Date 2005
Publisher The University of Arizona
Department Teaching & Teacher Education; Graduate College
Degree Ph.D.
URL http://hdl.handle.net/10150/194998
Language English
University University of Arizona
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal care
  2. Animal roles
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Arthropods
  5. Birds
  6. Education
  7. Emergency
  8. Fish
  9. Frogs
  10. Mammals
  11. Reptiles
  12. safety
  13. volunteers
  14. Zoo and captive wild animals
  15. Zoos