By HAOYU ZHENG and ERIN HOLLOWAY
Editor: MICHELLE DANNER
With the arrival of spring and the gradually warming weather, it’s a perfect time to go outside and have some fun! Therefore, UPP staff prepared a meaningful event at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, which allowed students to relax and experience the beauty of nature. Why was it meaningful? UPP students volunteered in teams to create paper-mache enrichment toys for the animals, which earned them free entry to explore the zoo!
On Saturday, March 18, the teams gathered outside University Towers at 8:30. Although it was drizzling, 36 students were still looking forward to the trip. After arriving at the zoo, students were split into two groups, one group visited the zoo while the other group experienced the volunteer job. The two groups rotated between these activities.
“We are going to make 200 Easter eggs for the animals, so they will also have fun on that day,” Diane Powell, the volunteer director of the zoo, said. “These eggs can make them active. We call this an enrichment/play project.”
Making paper-mache eggs was an interesting activity; most students had never seen this before, so Mrs. Powell explained the production process in detail. Surprisingly, all of the materials used to make the eggs were safe for the animals to eat! After that, the group split into two teams: the first was responsible for making the egg shapes and the second team needed to use their imagination to decorate the eggs with non-toxic paint. The final results looked great! Some students wrote Chinese blessings on the eggs, while others wrote “Go Wolfpack” or painted beautiful shapes and designs.
“I personally think this activity is very meaningful,” Shawn Shang Gao said. “We need to do more to help them [animals].”
After both groups of students finished their volunteer job, they were free to explore! Fortunately, the drizzly weather had improved and the temperature was comfortable, so it was a great time to admire the zoo animals!
“I like animals, and I hope I can see some animals here that China does not have.” Aurora Yinan Ding said.
The North Carolina Zoo is one of the largest “natural habitat” zoos in the United States, meaning there are no cages made of steel and the animals are given enclosures that mimic their natural habitats. The zoo contains three parts: the Africa exhibit, the North America exhibit, and the Aviary. Students could see tons of animals from woodlands, deserts, mountains and the rocky coast! Some of the animals students got to see included zebras, elephants, giraffes, and even polar bears!
“I like this immersive feeling,” Peter Bi said. “You can see those animals from a very close distance, and they are not in the cages.”
At 2:30 pm, the volunteer trip was nearing the end. UPP interns waited at the entrance of the zoo for students to gather and took a group picture together. The zoo also provided luggage tags with different zoo animals’ pictures on it as souvenirs for the students.
“Although, I am a little bit tired now, I really had a good time at the zoo,” Victor Zhenyu Fan said. “I used to have two dogs. Although they have passed away, I still feel happy to help the animals.”
For many students, this was their first volunteer experience involving animals, and it was a good chance to relax from the growing pressure of finals. Moreover, after this volunteer job, students have a broader perspective on what taking good care of animals means; it’s so much more than just feeding them. There are other needs that zoo staff have to think about providing.
“In the zoo world, many people think that all anybody does is feed the animals and maintain their exhibits; but there is so much more,” Powell said. “There is a lot more involved in animal caretaking, such as working with doctors to make sure that their health is ok, giving the animals fun things to do… it takes a lot of people to make these things happen! So, it is a large-scale family event; as it takes a family to raise the child, it takes a village to run a zoo.”