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Zoo seeks volunteers to staff new penguin habitat

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — A flock of volunteers is needed to staff the Detroit Zoo’s new Polk Penguin Conservation Center, according to zoo officials.

The $29.5 million habitat is listed on the zoo’s volunteer application among various positions open to people 18 and older, with further details available at orientations scheduled through out the year. The 2-acre site just inside the zoo’s entrance is scheduled to open in April 2016.

It will be home to more than 80 penguins who will be free to frolic in a chilled, 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep pool. Views from above and below will allow visitors to see the resident penguins dive underwater, something not visible in the wild. Soon after the zoo’s 80 penguins move into their new home, renovation will begin on the current Penguinarium to turn it into a bat conservation center, officials have said.

While volunteers will get the chance to work near the flightless birds, they “do not feed or handle the animals,” officials said. That same rule applies for volunteer positions through out the zoo, including the “Mob Squad” interacting with guests visiting the Australian Outback Adventure habitat housing kangaroos, wallabies and emus; as well as volunteers conducting crowd control inside the busy Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage at Arctic Ring of Life.

“These volunteers enjoy quality time with the polar bear and seal residents of this award-winning habitat,” zoo officials said of the position.

All volunteer experiences begin with an orientation providing a general overview of the available positions. Candidates then may schedule an interview with a staff member to select a position and complete paperwork, including a background check, officials said. A second orientation reviews emergency preparedness and various volunteer policies and procedures. Both sessions are required before volunteering in some cases, while in others the second session may be completed within three months of the interview.

This year’s first volunteer orientation is scheduled for 9-11:30 a.m. March 5 at the zoo’s Ford Education Center.

Younger animal lovers can get involved through the zoo’s “Volunteen” program, also mentioned on the zoo’s website.

Teens aged 16 and 17 can apply for the counselor-in-training program, to be matched with paid adult camp counselors during the Summer Safari Camp between June and August. The teens will be tasked with helping guide K-8 campers on zoo tours and with craft projects. Deadline to apply is April 1.

Additionally, kids 15-17-years-old may apply to be part of the Zoo Corps program, earning community service hours at the zoo’s Education Department. This program also has an April 1 deadline to apply.

For more information, go to the zoo’s volunteer website or contact the volunteer services department at (248) 541-5717 ext. 3802 or

(313) 223-4616