Chestatee Wildlife Preserve & Zoo, an exotic and native animal preserve and petting zoo just a short drive from the Dawson County line, is looking for volunteers to help everyday operations run more smoothly.
Preserve Manager Charlotte Johnson said that volunteers are essential to keeping the operation running as well as it does, and the benefits of volunteering.
“Our volunteers do everything from feeding to cleaning to admissions,” Johnson said. “It’s a really rewarding job.”
The preserve is home to over a hundred different kinds of animals, from exotic animals like tigers, zebras and lemurs to native ones like bears, deer, donkeys and horses. According to Johnson, the animals at the preserve have been rescued from being orphaned, abused or in need of a place to call home.
On a typical day, Johnson and her team of volunteers arrive at the preserve in the morning to feed all the animals. For the rest of the day, volunteers clean the animals’ habitats, prepare meals for the next day, sell tickets at the admissions booth and perform general maintenance like cutting the grass and replacing broken fence slats.
In addition to the preserve’s general admission, they also offer large and small animals encounters, another activity that volunteers help out with. According to Johnson, volunteers are first allowed to grow comfortable around the smaller animals like the lemurs and birds before moving on to helping out with the larger ones like the tigers and bears.
“We start you out slow so you’re comfortable before learning the big animals,” Johnson said. “We want our volunteers to be comfortable, so like if you don’t feel comfortable handling the snakes we aren’t going to make you do that.”
Through working at the preserve, volunteers are given the opportunity to learn more about all the animals, both exotic and native.
“We teach our volunteers how to care for the animals and you learn about what they eat and how to prepare it,” Johnson said. “And I’m just full of fun facts — so like I can tell you what the origin of the name ‘lemur’ is and why they’re called that, fun facts like that.”
Volunteers also learn each of the animals’ individual personalities which is another joy of working at the preserve, according to Johnson.
“You wouldn’t think some of these animals really have strong personalities, but they do,” Johnson said. “Like I’ll go out and eat my dinner in the pen with the baboon; she and I are friends. We’ll share spaghetti sometimes, or I’ll bring her a bag of popcorn and watching her pull it open with her little hands is just pure joy.”
Not only is volunteering at the preserve a great opportunity to learn about the animals, it’s also an opportunity to learn from them, she said.
“I’ve learned so much from the animals,” Johnson said. “Like when I was out here years ago it was raining every day for I don’t know how long and I was just sick and tired of it, but then I noticed the deer out there running, playing and jumping in the air and it just made me stop and think about it and realize it wasn’t so bad after all.”
Johnson said that because of this and many other reasons, volunteering at the preserve is a huge reward in itself.
“It’s such a gratifying job,” Johnson said. “And I mean it’s just a good feeling to be able to help God’s creatures; if you love animals it’s great to know you’re providing for them or making them a new habitat.”
According to Johnson, those wanting to help out at the preserve can volunteer as much or as little time as they want to.
“I prefer to have my volunteers for blocks of at least 6 hours so I can schedule them 9 to 3 or something like that,” Johnson said. “But if you can only volunteer once a week that’s still great — as many or as few days a week as you can volunteer it helps!”
Those interested in volunteering must be at least 18 years old, be current on their tetanus shot and have a clean criminal record.
For those who are unable to volunteer their time, the preserve is always in need of donations of fresh fruits and vegetables to feed the animals.
For more information on volunteering at Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, call Charlotte Johnson at (678)758-1291. To download the volunteer application, visit the organization’s volunteer page at https://chestateewildlife.com/volunteers.