Renee and Monique living the dream at Brooklands Zoo

02 October 2020

New Plymouth women Renee Downing and Monique Williams have got a world-class start to their dream career by volunteering at NPDC’s Brooklands Zoo.

Renee and Monique, both 24 and both former Spotswood College pupils, grew up with frequent outings to Brooklands Zoo and were over the moon to join the nine-strong team.

“We’ve grown up with all the animals. My mum and I used to sit together watching the capuchins for ages when I was a kid,” says Renee.

They both loved animals, but it was volunteering at Brooklands Zoo that set them on a career as keepers.

Renee left school and worked in cafes before working as a volunteer and as a summer intern, while Monique got an animal science degree in ecology at Victoria University of Wellington before coming home and joining the volunteers.

They became professional keepers after getting their captive wild animal management qualifications at Unitec.

Brooklands Zoo has been an accredited member of the Australasia-wide Zoo and Aquarium Association since 2016, which shows it meets the highest standards of animal welfare and ensures the animals are mentally and physically healthy and happy.

The zoo also adds animal information to the Zoological Information Management System, run by international conservation group Species360 and has a Wildlife Act Authority permit from the Department of Conservation to help with rehabilitating injured wild birds. 

“This is a very hard field to get into and we’re both super lucky to get jobs here,” says Monique.

They both admit the work is more physically demanding than they expected, but they’d never look back now.

“If you’re having a stressful day, it’s good to take a moment and be with an animal. I also enjoy teaching people about conservation and training the animals in things like getting on the scales so we can weigh them,” says Renee.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else now.  It’s our lives, our passion,” adds Monique.

Brooklands Zoo currently has a waiting list of volunteers, who must be 16 or over and physically fit.
Volunteer work includes preparing animal food and cleaning habitats, making enrichment items for the animals, talking to the public and helping with maintenance. More information and a volunteer application form can be found on newplymouthnz.com or by calling 06-759 6060.

Brooklands Zoo fast facts

  • Brooklands Zoo opened in 1965.
  • Zoo is open seven days a week and is visited by about 113,000 people each year.
  • It’s home to a diverse range of species from farm animals, reptiles and amphibians to meerkats, large South American rodents like agouti and capybara, Bolivian squirrel monkeys, cotton-top tamarins and capuchins. 
  • The zoo has a walk-through aviary.
  • It takes part in managed animal breeding programmes for many of the species at the zoo including the cotton-top tamarins and capuchin monkeys.
  • It has a Wildlife Act Authority permit from DOC to help with rehabilitating injured wild birds. 
  • The zoo is part of DOC’s Toyota Kiwi Guardians activity programme for kids to learn about nature, earn cool rewards and go on epic family adventures.
Brooklands Zoo keepers Renee Downing Monique Williams