A wild bonding experience

Los Angeles Zoo volunteers get a closer look at nature and share their knowledge with others.

July 10, 2010|By Nicole Charky, Special to the News-Press
(Tim berger )

Some people volunteer in hospitals or libraries, but others babysit escape artist orangutans and dig worms for hungry foxes.

The Los Angeles Zoo enlists 800 volunteers from high school teens to retirees throughout the Los Angeles area, many of whom live in Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge and Burbank.

One docent, Muriel Horacek, of La Cañada, can often be found near Bruno the orangutan. Bruno is well-known on zoo grounds for his 25-minute escape in May 2008. Ever since, volunteers like Horacek have kept a watchful eye on him, which she enjoys because orangutans are her favorite species to observe.

Horacek began her work with animals at age 67 as an Earth Watch representative. Earth Watch recruits people to help scientists with their wildlife field research.

At 87 years old, Horacek has traveled with 35 expeditions to sites such as China, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.

This is Horacek's first year as volunteer docent, teaching people about wildlife.


"The more you go, the more you see the personality of the animals," she said. "When you go to the zoo once, you don't see that."

One of her favorite memories is watching a 5-year-old orangutan spend 30 minutes reaching for a branch outside the cage. With perseverance, the young ape finally nibbled.

Glendale resident Beach Rogers has volunteered at the zoo for nine years and also loves the orangutans.

Rogers worked at KNX-FM (1070) and spent his entire career in Los Angeles. In 1998, he retired and wanted to give back to the community when he wasn't playing golf.

As a docent, he loves sharing facts about the animals and teaching children about wildlife conservation.

"There's not an animal that doesn't deserve care and doesn't deserve our attention," Rogers said. "Can you imagine not being able to see a particular animal? There are so many wonderful animals, and we don't want to see them disappear."

He's proud to volunteer at the zoo, and he looks forward to the new 3.5-acre Asian elephant compound. Asian elephants are most at risk because they are threatened in the wild and by humans, he said.

Horacek and Rogers took a zoology course to be a docent like many retirees at the zoo who are overseen by Burbank resident Kirin Daugharty.

Daugharty is manager of volunteer programs for the zoo and began her volunteer work as an artist in 2001. Daugharty started doing more observing than painting and began her work there as a "happy accident," she said.

She doesn't work with the animals like she used to.

Glendale News-Press Articles Glendale News-Press Articles