The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Grinnellians monkey around at Blank Park Zoo

A Blank Park Zoo macaque chows down on a pine cone animal enrichment item. Photo contributed.

By Prisca Kim

A collection of Grinnell students have found a way to regularly escape the all-too-familiar landscape of wintertime Iowa for more exotic climes. A student volunteer group has been making regular excursions over the past two semesters to the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines to work with animals from around the world.

The group of eight Grinnellians visits the Zoo once every two weeks to work on a number of animal enrichment programs and other projects.

“‘Animal enrichment’ is creating a tool or something that the animals in the zoo react with in their environment to make it more realistic to the wild and to improve their [lives],” said group coordinator Rachael Morgan ’16.

For the volunteers, these animal enrichment items have often taken the form of food, including animal-friendly brownies and pine cones wrapped in peanut butter and seeds.

A Blank Park Zoo macaque chows down on a pine cone animal enrichment item. Photo contributed.

The group started last fall when communication between zoo volunteer coordinators and Community Service Coordinator Susan Sanning resulted in a community partnership project, which allowed students to get involved at the Zoo. Coordinators Julia Clymer ’13 and Morgan expressed interest in the opportunity and went through an interview process before they were selected to lead the volunteers.

Morgan plans to pursue a major in psychology and Clymer is a biology major. Both are interested in studying animals through the lenses of their respective disciplines.

“I am interested in animal behavior,” Clymer said. “The zoo opportunity sounded really interesting because I have always enjoyed animals.”

In addition to the animal enrichment items, volunteers complete a variety of tasks at the zoo, from checking supply inventory to planning future projects and preparing food for animals. Much of the time, volunteers are helping out with duties that the zookeepers are otherwise too busy to fulfill.

“It’s really satisfying to know that we are going in there and doing something over and above what [the animals] would normally be provided,” Clymer said.

Student volunteer Marlu Abarca ’14 finds it personally gratifying to see their animal enrichment projects put to use.

“I’m really glad we get to work sort of behind the scenes, but we still get to see our work and how it’s being used and we get to see the animals benefiting from what we do,” Abarca said.

During upcoming semesters, the group intends to build upon the foundation it has established this year. One area where the leaders want to see changes is in the level of student input into zoo projects.

“Our biggest project this semester has been creating our own proposals for enrichment items… eventually we’ll end up building them, too,” Morgan said. “I think using more creativity and being more focused with what we’re doing is a big goal for us.”

Some of these projects include making an artificial kelp bed for otters, creating a pipe feeder for birds and constructing a large chew toy for lions.

Clymer also hopes to see the project begin to expand outside of the confines of the zoo.

“We’ve been talking about applying for funding so that we can get some of our own basic supplies for things like papier-mâché and then go to [Grinnell’s] Drake Library and have kids make things. Simple things like papier-mâché [are] really fun and easy for kids to do, and then those items can be brought back to the zoo and we could either videotape or take pictures of the animals interacting with them and [bring] them back and [show] the kids which would be exciting,” Clymer said. “I think hopefully in the future, it will be a bit bigger.”

According to Morgan, a large part of these changes will come from increased student participation.

“I think if we could get a couple more people involved, we could do a lot more,” Morgan said.

For those who want to get involved during the next school year, look for information about applying at the beginning of next semester.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *