A love for animals has inspired her work as a docent for the past 17 years.
"One of the main benefits of volunteering at the BioPark is this great feeling you get from doing something important...we get involved with helping endangered species and educating people about the Earth."
At the Zoo
Christina Gonzalez’s love for animals prompted her to become a Zoo and Aquarium Docent. Christina moved to Taos in 1989 and then to Albuquerque in 1994. She started asking questions about volunteering with the zoo and learned about being a docent at Run for the Zoo. Christina has volunteered as a Zoo Docent for 17 years. She retired from her job at the federal government three years ago and continues to be an active volunteer. Last year, she put in over 400 volunteer hours.
Why did you decide to become a Zoo Docent?
It was my love of animals and the desire to be around them that first drove me to it.
What do you love most about being a Zoo Docent?
I’ve always liked learning about animals. I was the type of kid to read books and watch shows on animals. Being able to learn about them and continuing to learn about animals every day. I like being in that environment and being around people with these same values; caring about animals and the Earth.
Tell us about a unique experience you've had as a Zoo Docent.
A few years ago, we had some relatively new snow leopard cubs. They were very timid of humans on the other side of the enclosure, but they were very curious. I hid around the corner and waited a short time. I could see that they had come right up to the fence and were very surprised when I came back around. I then felt something odd. When I turned my head, I saw their mom had very quietly snuck up--her eyes were boring right into me. It was kind of disconcerting!
At the Aquarium
In the middle of Christina’s zoo training, Catherine Hubbard, now the Botanic Garden Manager, came to class. The BioPark was building an Aquarium, and Catherine wondered if anyone would like to volunteer as a docent. Christina’s roots in southern California had instilled in her a love for the ocean. She saw an opportunity to be near water and the ocean animals she loved. She has been volunteering as an Aquarium Docent since the facility opened 16 years ago and recently spent a whole week there for Camp BioPark.
What do you love most about volunteering as an Aquarium Docent?
I like sharing the knowledge that I have, but I also like seeing somebody all of a sudden get it, when they see it in a new light or gain a new insight. I also like doing behind-the-scenes stuff that only volunteers can do.
Tell us a unique experience you've had as an Aquarium Docent.
One unique experience was to see a triggerfish trained to put up a tiny plastic basketball into a hoop. It was just fascinating to see. I recently had the pleasure in one of the camps of working with children about four or five years old. One little girl’s delight at everything was very gratifying.
What are some of the benefits of volunteering at the ABQ BioPark?
One of the main benefits is this great feeling you get from doing something important. I feel that the BioPark is very important for New Mexico, and also for the world, for we get involved with helping endangered species and educating people about the Earth. It’s gratifying when you have a visitor that makes a connection, especially when they are younger and they talk about becoming a marine biologist or zoologist or veterinarian. For me specifically, it’s feeling like I have a purpose. It’s having a reason to look forward to going somewhere and interacting with people and seeing animals.
Learn more about volunteering at one of our upcoming volunteer trainings.
- Top: Christina helps an Aquarium guest identify fish in the "Shark Tank."
- Center: Kachina, the female snow leopard.
- Bottom: Christina (draped in paper chains in the back row) and other volunteers help create holiday animal enrichment.
Interview by Jennifer Sawayda on July 16, 2013.