A volunteer at the Greater Vancouver Zoo is receiving some national accolades.
Elfie Ringrose spends a chunk of every week cutting, slicing, mulching, and dicing produce into tiny cubes for the likes of the zoo’s porcupines, baboons, and emu to eat.
The 66-year-old Abbotsford woman is one of 40 volunteers who help out on a regular basis at the 264th Street wildlife facilities, and she was recently lauded for those efforts by being crowned the Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) volunteer of the year.
Since she started with the zoo a decade ago, Ringrose has donated close to 1,500 hours.
She’s there religiously every Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon, still as excited today as when a friend first coaxed her into volunteering back in 2007, Ringrose said.
“I love it… this is a way of enriching their lives, and then the keepers can focus on giving them a little more quality time,” Ringrose shared.
In the middle of the week, she’s found in the animal care centre “kitchen” helping to prepare meals for the smaller animals.
On Fridays, her duties turn to cleaning out the hatchling enclosures for the western painted turtles. She has some first-hand experience for this job, being a retired house cleaner.
This is a volunteer who always arrives early, and is quick to pitch in with other duties as needed, said the zoo’s animal care manager Menita Prasad.
“We were very pleased to honour Elfie with GVZ’s 2016 volunteer of the year award as voted by her peers,” Prasad said, “And [we] are appreciative that her hard work and dedication is also recognized via CAZA/AZAC’s volunteer of the year award.”
When Ringrose first came aboard, she helped with food prep and cleaning of the reptile and small animal enclosures, as well as some educational presentations.
But not one for the spotlight, Ringrose “prefers to be behind the scenes,” helping out at the animals by taking on what she described the more “mundane” duties, freeing up more time for the caregivers to work one-on-one with the animals.
“I really do enjoy it,” Ringrose said, noting the flexibility of schedule allows her to still have lots of time with her grandchildren.
“Elfie has become one of our most reliable volunteers through the years and faithfully tends to her duties,” Prasad said, noting there are a few long-term volunteers like Ringrose who are imperative to the ongoing operate the facility and care for the animals.
“Elfie is a fabulous role model for zoo staff and other volunteers and we are honoured she chooses to volunteer her time with us,” Prasad said.
The award was presented to the Greater Vancouver Zoo’s management team in Ottawa during the CAZA conference, then more recently presented to Ringrose at the zoo by volunteer coordinator Barbara Lafrefnaye.
It was also confirmed at the recent conference that the local zoo passed another five-year CAZA accreditation inspection with what Prasad called “flying colours.”
Accreditation means that the local zoo upholds and adheres to the highest standard of animal care, safety and education as determined by the foremost professionals in the zoological and aquarium field.
It’s been more than a decade since the zoo – under previous owners – lost its CAZA accreditation. That occurred when criminal charges were brought (and later dropped) against the zoo – along with much public criticism – because of the poor condition of the hippo enclosure, which was later replaced.