Zoo Watch: Ian Sainthouse – Volunteer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

ZSL volunteer Ian Sainthouse in Whipsnade's Butterfly House.

ZSL volunteer Ian Sainthouse in Whipsnade's Butterfly House. - Credit: Archant

As part of National Volunteers’ Week, Ian Sainthouse explains why he gives up his free time to give a helping hand at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo – and why he has a species of fish named after him!

Nothobranchius sainthousei - the fish named after ZSL volunteer Ian Sainthouse - picture Bela Nagy.

Nothobranchius sainthousei - the fish named after ZSL volunteer Ian Sainthouse - picture Bela Nagy. - Credit: Archant

It is like having another family. That is how I would sum up being a volunteer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

Having retired in 2000, I began volunteering at Whipsnade in 2009 after seeing an advert in my local newspaper in which the Zoo was appealing for more volunteers. Immediately I was very interested in taking part as I have been a nature enthusiast since I was a boy. There are now some 170 volunteers who dedicate some of their spare time at the Zoo.

Every Wednesday, I make the 15 minute drive from my home in Slapton to volunteer at the Zoo. My day typically lasts from 10am until 5pm and my role can range from talking to people about the marvellous creatures in the tropical Butterfly House to exhibiting incredible artefacts, such as a replica lion skull or a giant elephant tooth, for visitors to see and touch.

I love talking to Whipsnade’s visitors about animals and sharing my knowledge with them – or simply helping them to enjoy their day a little more by pointing them in the right direction to find the African hunting dogs or advising on the best place to spot the red pandas!

I am curious about all animals and aspects of nature, but I have a particular interest in fish. In November last year I had the honour of being told a recently discovered species of killifish would be named Nothobranchius sainthousei, after my surname. As well as being slightly surprised, I am pleased to have a fish named in my honour.

Being a volunteer is a wonderful way to keep myself active as we help out all around the Zoo throughout the day, and the site is 600 acres in size! I might start my day at In with the Lemurs, our walkthrough lemur exhibit in the morning and then spend time at the new Centre for Elephant Care – on the other side of the Zoo – later in the afternoon.

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Not everyone realises that ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is a charity. As well as the education and conservation work the Zoo is committed to, ZSL runs conservation projects in more than 50 countries around the world and ZSL’s Institute of Zoology leads on scientific research to help wildlife and its habitats. As a volunteer I’m delighted to be playing my part in helping to raise awareness of the incredible work ZSL is doing.

I am so proud of my role as a volunteer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and I think Volunteers’ Week is a wonderful opportunity to recognise and celebrate the contribution of all the volunteers in the UK.

And I am sure my volunteer friends and I at Whipsnade will raise a glass together at some point too this week!

To find out more about becoming a volunteer at ZSL please click here.