Volunteering at the Belgrade Zoo
Located in Kalemegdan Park is one of the oldest zoos in Europe. I've always loved animals and volunteering, so when I was studying abroad in Belgrade, Serbia during my senior year of college, I asked one of the lead zookeepers - in terribly broken Serbo-Croatian - if I could volunteer at the zoo. He didn't speak any English, but nodded in approval. And just like that I was a volunteer.
Along with several elementary-aged Serbian school children, I spent my Sunday mornings volunteering. Having the 7am to 1pm shift on a Sunday morning was a bit brutal for a college-age student, but it was a totally unique experience. Without any formal training or overview of proper procedures, I was charged with helping sweep the grounds, prepare food for the animals, clean cages, and herd goats.
Unlike zoos across the United States, there are minimal barriers between the animals and visitors at the zoo. Lions, tigers, and wolves can be inches away from you. There were also fewer restrictions for staff, and even volunteers. Petting, playing, and cuddling with some of the animals wasn't uncommon. There were also animals that you wouldn't expect to be at a zoo like raccoons, foxes, deer, guinea pigs, and hamsters.
If you have the opportunity to volunteer abroad, I highly recommend it. It gives you a chance to give back while also experiencing the local culture from an entirely new prospective. While there wasn't any formal volunteer posting at the Belgrade Zoo, sometimes all you have to do is ask.
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