By Courtney Byczynski, Staff Reporter
For many people, Brookfield Zoo is merely a place for a fun day trip. However, senior Kristin Smith spends her summers volunteering there through the Chicago Zoological Society’s Youth Volunteer Corps.
Smith explained, “While I’m working in the summer, I stand in front of various animal exhibits during the day with different specimen like animal skulls or fur and I talk to guests about the animals and conservation.”
Although she does not typically work directly with the animals, she sometimes gets stationed at the goat yard in the petting zoo where she is at least working closer to the animals themselves.
Smith has always been a fan of working with animals and visiting the zoo, even at a young age. Her love for animals stemmed from always having cats and dogs in the house, eventually compelling her to want to work with more exotic animals, not just regular domesticated pets.
With this passion for animals in mind, Smith decided to take advantage of the opportunity a couple of years ago when she heard the Brookfield Zoo was accepting applications.
Smith’s supervisor, Debra Kutska, who also started her career with animals by volunteering at the zoo exclaimed that Smith’s “enthusiasm for the natural world comes through every time she engages with guests… and she has been an excellent volunteer.”
In addition to volunteering during the summer, Smith also has the opportunity to work two seasonal events.
The first event she works is the zoo’s annual Halloween celebration called “Creatures of the Night.” This event takes place throughout the month of October and it allows visitors to come to the zoo during nighttime. There is also an event for daytime visitors with younger children called “Boo at the Zoo.”
During this month-long celebration, visitors get to experience the “Trail of Terror” set in Stingray Bay, as all the stingrays are gone for season.
Additionally during this Halloween event, there is “the haunted tram ride where guests take the tram around a dimly lit course and in it there are little sections with themes like werewolves, zombies, [and] horror movies”
The other event Smith gets to work is their winter event called “Holiday Magic” during which workers again dress up as characters or help escort others in costume.
Smith plans on working at the zoo for at least a few more years, and also plans on studying zoology at Colorado State University.
Studying zoology basically means she will “study animals, including their classification, structure, and behavior.”
Specifically, she wishes to pursue a career with wolves or large cats. Smith has always found wolves interesting as her parents and her “used to [visit] this place in Indiana called Wolf Park and they had overnight summer camps [she] would attend where [she] would learn about wolves and the environment around them.”
Her interest in big cats emerged recently when she saw a documentary about a man who trained lions and tigers that would be used in movies. What really stood out to her was the relationship shared by the animals and the trainer and “how they seemed like over- sized house cats in their mannerism [and how] they would purr and rub up against him whenever they saw him.”
Smith hopes that her love and compassion for animals eventually leads her to “work in a zoo or … an animal sanctuary where I can be involved with an animal [and] teach people about them.”
Volunteering at the zoo is fulfilling for many reasons. Kutska explained that “for teens interested in working with animals or in conservation, volunteering at Brookfield Zoo is a great way to gain experience and get ‘a foot in the door’ to this unique world. Teens in our program also make lasting friendships with students they may otherwise never have met.”