Travel Log 12: “Service” by Nicole Muckenhirn. Gold Coast, Queensland

When people think of Australia some of the first things that come to mind are koalas and kangaroos.  I absolutely love animals and was so excited to see them.  Thankfully, I’ve gotten lots of opportunities to see this animals and others at wildlife parks in Queensland.  Something that’s really important to me is seeing that animals are treated fairly.  It’s great to be able to see them, but it’s terrible if going means the animals are forced to live in terrible enclosures.  A few weeks ago I went to Bali and I saw this first hand.  Unlike the U.S. and Australia, they’re animal laws aren’t very strong.  My friends and I visited Turtle Island and we were shocked by what we saw.  Turtles were packed in shallow muddy water with no room to move, monkeys in small dirty cages, iguanas chained around the waist.  It was heartbreaking and we couldn’t leave the place fast enough.  So, when I thought of community service I wanted to engage in here in Australia I thought of the animals.  I wanted to go behind the scenes at a wildlife park and make sure that the animals were being treated right. 

I decided to volunteer at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.  I chose it for two reasons, I had already been there as a visitor and loved it, and it’s the closest to where I reside.  I started the process by filling out the online application which was actually quite extensive.  It took a long time to get my volunteer day set up.  They had to process my application and then my day had to be set up at least 10 days in advance.  With all the trips I was taking and finals this meant the only day I could go was 2 days before I left Australia for good.  It was hard because I didn’t want to spend one of my last days away from my friends, but then I realized that this was also an amazing opportunity that I would always remember when I thought of Australia.

Volunteering at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary was an interesting experience.  After arriving at 7 in the morning I was given a neon orange vest and a hat that said Currumbin Wildlife Volunteer.  I then spent the rest of the day going around the park with different Wildlife Keepers as they went about their daily rounds.  I began the day with a woman named Jane in the reptile section.  We prepped food for the animals and then began feeding them.  This took almost all morning as the animals all had specific diets and needs. The park has to be kept orderly so I spent the rest of the time before lunch raking and sweeping around the park.  After lunch I was lucky enough to follow the wildlife keepers in charge of the Koalas.  They were very informative and it was really reassuring to see how well the animals were treated.  Holding a Koala is one of the “must do” activities for many people visiting Australia.  But, what many people don’t realize is that they are very sensitive marsupials who are protected because of concerns towards their sustainable future in the wild.  Australian states that allow Koala holding are Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.  In these states that do allow handling of Koalas it is strictly regulated.  Koalas can only work a maximum of 30 minutes a day for three days, then they must get a day off.  The wildlife keepers were very strict about this and made sure that all of the Koalas were kept safe. 

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Seeing as I was in a neon vest with a volunteer cap I had countless people coming up to me all day asking questions.  As I had very little knowledge about the park and am not an expert on any of the animals I always had to direct them to actual staff, but if I was not busy, I would go with them to learn the answer myself. 

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of other”.  I think this quote represents the day I spent at Currumbin.  In the beginning of my day I was upset about missing a beach day with friends, but as it went on I realized how much I was learning and that even the smallest thing I did was a big help.  The park relies on volunteer to keep it looking beautiful and give the wildlife keepers an extra hand.  Being able to give back to the Australian community in even the smallest way was a great way to end my trip.

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