Wednesday afternoon, 18-year-old Jacob Garcia from Great Bend High School was busy preparing a salad for Chunga, an African Crested Porcupine at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo.
Under the direction of job coach Marlene Hamit, he checked the recipe as he explained what the work entails. “We cut the food into large or small chunks according to the rules, to feed animals at the zoo.”
Garcia placed the food bowl in a refrigerator so it would be ready to go. Chunga’s breakfast for Thursday morning consists of half an ear of corn, a measured amount of monkey biscuits (a zoo staple), dark greens and cucumber.
Hamit said the Special Services cooperative that serves schools in Barton County and the Otis-Bison school district has about 80 students in work-study programs throughout the county. Several of them come to the zoo every day to prepare meals and keep the kitchen in order. The students also work during summer school.
“They like coming here,” Hamit said. “The keepers tell them about the different animals.” The students get work experience and a chance to hone their math and reading skills.
“Quite a few of our work-study students have gotten jobs,” Hamit said. Those who work at the zoo have a greater appreciation than most of what zookeepers do.
Curator and Zoo Supervisor Sara Hamlin she’s grateful for the students’ help.
“They save us quite a lot of time, which means that zookeepers can focus on other aspects of animal care,” she said. “We also really enjoy having them. Most of the kids are really interested in the animals and curious to learn.”