Last week’s diary included a small thanks to the volunteer rangers manning our reopened lemur walkthrough, ensuring all animals (lemur and human!) stay safe, and taking the opportunity to chat about these amazing primates and their wild cousins, writes by Chris Lusby, manager of Lakeland Wildlife Oasis.

Reading it back, I realised all our volunteers deserve much more: if only I had somewhere public to say a proper ‘thank you’.

As a small conservation charity, the Oasis relies on our incredible visitors, supporters, and volunteers. Most people don’t realise many of those smart, friendly, knowledgeable staff you see around the zoo aren’t paid keepers. They’re our volunteer superstars.

They really enhance the quality and range of what we can offer at the zoo, helping with everything from general monitoring, feeding, litter picking and cage cleaning, to educating, giving talks, and hosting animal encounters.

There’s no typical volunteer: some are retired, some teenagers. In the summer we welcome students looking to gain work experience and this year, furloughed workers came to us turning adversity into a positive. Many support us year-round, finding fulfilment and friendship supporting a charity; some one day a week, some more. I promise they’re not here as slaves (whatever they say!), it’s a two-way process. If you’re mad about animals, where better to be? You get enviable access, and learn so much. Zoo staff are a friendly bunch, and we also tailor to people’s natural skills and preferences: sociable types love being out front with the visitors, some prefer to remain behind the scenes. Whatever the role, all are valued.

So, a huge thank you to our volunteers- we couldn’t do it without you! If ‘seeing behind the fencing’ sounds tempting, our doors are always open: see the zoo’s website. You’ll be fascinated, fulfilled, sometimes tired, definitely grubby, and always appreciated.