MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Cassandra Steppacher is one of dozens of volunteers who help Symbio Wildlife Park with its animal conservation efforts.
Ms Steppacher is nearing the end of a business and environmental biology double degree at UTS and has been volunteering for nine months.
"I only had work experience in a business and I wanted to get more into environmental work, and this was a way I could also give something to the community," she said.
"It is also really good experience. In a place like this you get to see things that need to be done and act on your own initiative. That makes it a very easy place to grow. They give you the tools and resources to go further. So it is up to you."
Ms Steppacher is still working out what she wants to do when she graduates at the end of the year but said volunteering at Symbio had helped in the decision-making process.
Working in the family-run zoo had also taught her a lot about how much zoos communicated with each other and worked together to save endangered species.
A breeding program run by the zoological industry in Australia now meant there were more Tasmanian devils in captivity than in the wild, she said.
"If we did not have these zoos there would be nothing for the future."
Ms Steppacher said it was a great responsibility to be able to work with some of the most endangered species on the planet.
She had used every opportunity to become more knowledgeable about them and had used that information to educate others.
"The keepers are always guiding you and you soon grow in confidence."
Ms Steppacher said she was attracted to volunteer at Symbio because of the enthusiasm of its people.
"I also saw that this was a zoo that was growing and I wanted to be part of that.
"Being a smaller zoo I can also talk to the boss and he can directly pass on information to me. It is like a big family and we all help each other."
Ms Steppacher said Symbio had been the perfect fit for her.
"I was always called 'nature girl' at school because I was always helping animals.
"I get to hold a koala every day I am here. And it is such a joy when babies are born. The best part of my work is seeing my efforts really paying off."
Symbio general manager John Radnidge said the wildlife park had two types of volunteer zookeepers: older people who just loved animals and wanted to help out and younger people thinking about animal conservation as a career.
"Our program is designed to turn them into qualified zookeepers," he said.
"These guys are the future of the industry. They are all a special breed. They turn up in the pouring rain, the searing heat, the freezing cold and the wind even though they are volunteers."