Gary Miller

Blog: IWD - Shelby Brereton, DMZAA Curriculum Leader

Posted: 5th March, 2022

To celebrate the run up to International Women's Day on 8th March, BIAZA are sharing the stories and voices of women from across the BIAZA membership.

Today's blog is from Shelby Brereton, curriculum leader for the Diploma in Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals (DMZAA), Certificate in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals for Volunteers (CMZAAV) and the Zoo and Aquarist Apprenticeship, based at Sparsholt College. 

As I write this, I’m planning a celebration of 20 years of DMZAA (that’s the Diploma in Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals) to highlight the importance of investing in oneself and team. To look ahead to the future, we often need to take time to reflect on the past.  In today’s fast paced world, this can be difficult to do but it is so important.  Many of us grow up loving animals and wanting to work with them.  But as we know, it’s not that easy to get into this field.  With hard work and dedication, it can happen.  One way we make it happen is by donating a most precious resource:  time.

On reflecting on my own zoo career, I identified a common theme of volunteering. Determined to work with animals and teach our visitors about them, I volunteered at a variety of collections throughout my journey.  Starting at the “World Famous San Diego Zoo” was no small feat, for the application process alone was more terrifying that most job interviews! However, in this role, I learned the valuable skill of how to approach people and keep their attention... a skill that has certainly been transferable! Every voluntary role offered something different, whether in the form of expert advice or species I looked after (my favourite was working with Victor the cheetah!). By showing commitment to the cause, by offering to come in on holidays or by doing extra time to get additional jobs done, I was able to make a difference in not only the lives of animals but in my own development. Therefore, my advice to you is this if you volunteer your time: be dedicated and consistent.  As with many areas of life, input equals output.  Consider volunteering in places that you wouldn’t normally.  For example, if you want to work with the big cats maybe try volunteering with a native species rescue centre.  You never know what skills you’ll learn that are transferrable to your future!

The importance of volunteering is not just for personal benefit; your work enhances the lives of our zoo animals and visitors. Whether it’s volunteering for your collection or volunteering for a studbook – let’s take a minute to recognise the value of volunteers.

“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew


Shelby Brereton BSc, MSc is the curriculum leader for the Diploma in Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals (DMZAA), Certificate in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals for Volunteers (CMZAAV) and the Zoo & Aquarist Apprenticeship.  Originally from California, she has developed her skills in both the UK and the USA. A lover of public engagement but also zoo history, have you read her paper “Sixty years of collection planning: what species do zoos and aquariums keep?” in International Zoo Yearbook? (

By Shelby Brereton, Sparsholt College.

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions.

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