She Talks to Tigers - The Slightly Secret Life of a Zoo Volunteer
When she's not at the El Paso Zoo, Missouri native Jasmine Hawes walks and talks to Tigers at Wessa -A-geh Wildlife Rescue. The teen takes care of tigers, wolves, foxes, lions, cougars, Russian black bear, and leopard. And a few chickens that someone dropped off. Her home is in Warrington, Missouri, but she splits her time between cities and families. When she was 12 years old, her dad decided to start saving animals, and not just puppies and kitties. Her dad chose the big cats. Jasmine remembers feeding her first cats - baby tigers and a baby lion.
"It was neat that I'd go to sleep with a 100 pound cat next to me. They would just lay there and sometimes they would wake up in the middle of the night to play." Every mom knows what it's like to have a toddler wake up in the night - but can you imagine a tiger?
In all, Jasmine's family has rescued 73 big cats, 20 wolves and one bear. And Jasmine has learned firsthand about their rehabilitation. "Did you know that tiger stripes are actually the pigment of the skin?" Jasmine says she's leaned much about animals by taking care of them up close. Her dream is to become a Zoologist and have her own animal sanctuary. Right now, she is spending her time working with the different animals at the El Paso Zoo.
It's her second time volunteering. The first time was 5 years ago. At that time, she came to the zoo day in and day out for a two year period. So much so that she received an award for the amount of hours she put in. Her favorite part was learning about the animals she'd never seen like the capybara (a big rodent - the largest in the world in fact), and the pronghorn (related to the deer family). "I would feed them and clean their cages and get to touch them. I thought it was really neat. It was a great experience. And that's when I learned my two passions were animals and music." The former Hanks High School student was number four in the city and number one in her district for bass clarinet. She plays music for her dogs here in El Paso.
All the animals she has are abused rescue, or abandoned by people who didn't understand how much work it is to take care of them. "Everybody sees a tiger and says they're so pretty but they don't understand how much food they need and how expensive it is to feed and care for them. Lack of knowledge. I think zoo are really great because they teach people about conservation, and if it weren't for zoos a lot of the animal that are here wouldn't exist today. Some people don't understand how much work it is to try and understand an animal's life. They think that an animal is better in the wild - but that's not always true. People kill animals by destroying their habitat and poaching them and that's the reason animals disappear. But people who don't understand that don't see the workings."-Jasmine
Someday, Jasmine will be a zoologist, and have her own sanctuary. But for the next two years, at least until she heads off to college, the El Paso Zoo has her. And seeing the hard work of our resident tiger whisperer - that's a good thing. Jasmine is a volunteer. The Zoo needs people for school programs, and to work as zookeeper assistants, exhibit hosts, conservation action stations, zoo presentations and tour guides.
Currently the zoo has an adult volunteer program and a program for teenagers called Roots and Shoots. Young people wanting to sign up should contact Bob Gable at 915-521-1861. The minimum age is 11 years old.
The Roots and Shoots Parent-Child Program allows parents to train and volunteer with their children as volunteer team members.
Both the child and parent need to complete a Volunteer Application before being admitted to the program. It's available online at www.elpasozoo.org, click: Volunteer Application or give us a call at 915-351-5340 or 532-8156
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