Best career working with animals

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Georgina Cairns has one of the most enviable jobs in the world at Taronga Zoo Sydney. Photo: Kitty Beale

If you are an animal lover with a penchant for teaching, Georgia Cairns has one of the most enviable jobs in the world.

For the past three years, Georgina’s classroom has looked a lot different to other teachers.

That’s because Georgina has been working for diocesan schools including Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) as an education officer at Taronga Zoo Sydney, where she has been sharing her passion for all things animals with students across NSW.

What is your job and what does it involve? 

My position as a Taronga Zoo education officer is very diverse and combines my passion for teaching and wildlife. I deliver school workshops on the zoo grounds and often in the immersive classrooms to students from Kindergarten all the way up to Year 12.

I also get the opportunity to travel around NSW to bring the zoo workshops and animals into classrooms. In addition to teaching, I am responsible for the coordination of various projects including digital programs, the Taronga Zoomobile and Project Koala.

“Seeing the student’s faces light up when they see monkeys running across vines or echidnas waddling around the classroom is a highlight for me”

What do you love about your job? 
Every day I get to teach in the amazing immersive classrooms. These classrooms are animal exhibits which give students a unique opportunity to interact with wildlife. The animals move freely around the classroom and are conditioned to display natural behaviours.

Each classroom is themed around an iconic habitat including desert, rainforest and woodland environments. Animals in each classroom include Greater Bilbies, Cotton-top Tamarins, Bush Stone Curlews and Nicobar Pigeons.

I get to share my passion for wildlife with schools, not only at the zoo but by travelling around with animals in the Taronga Zoomobile. An exciting part of the role is being trained to correctly handle animals for education presentations.

I have been trained in handling different types of lizards and snakes, baby crocodiles, turtles, tortoises, possums, echidnas and frogs.

What led you to this job?
After school I studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in Zoology at the University College of Dublin, Ireland. Having spent one of my summer holidays volunteering in South Africa on a wildlife reserve and another volunteering at Taronga Zoo, I knew a career working with wildlife was for me.

After teaching science at St Ursula’s College Kingsgrove for 10 years, I started my current role for SCS at Taronga Zoo.

“Taronga Zoo Education Officer has always been my dream role”

Why is the partnership between SCS and Taronga Zoo important?
Taronga Zoo and SCS have a longstanding partnership – SCS is one of three Catholic education offices in NSW that employs an education officer at Taronga Zoo.

I believe educators of the future must be advocates for the wild, so this role helps bring the animals, experts and resources of Taronga Zoo into our schools.

In 2019, Taronga Zoo hosted SCS’ launch of their new Statement on STEM Learning. This event was the beginning of our partnership with the STEM team to create collaborative projects for SCS students.

Georgina Cairns on the job at Taronga Zoo Sydney. Photo: Kitty Beale

Tell us about your latest research/project?
Taronga has been successfully running project in-situ within schools for over 15 years. It involves school children engaging their local community to take action in helping care for a locally threatened species.

In 2020 I coordinated a new project in-situ with SCS called Project Koala.

Students from select schools were guided through a STEM focused inquiry learning program which highlighted the plight of the koala and the recovery and preservation of the koala into the future.

Students were empowered to design a conservation solution to ensure the ongoing survival of Koalas. The students came up with some really innovative prototypes and the project was a huge success. I look forward to running Project Koala again in 2021.

What is your favourite animal and why?
Since working at Taronga Zoo, my favourite animal is definitely the Short-Beaked Echidna. There is an echidna yard at the Institute and I love to stop and watch them waddling around.

Once I start talking about echidnas in a lesson it’s hard to stop as there are just so many amazing features and facts about them, my favourite being that they are one of only two egg-laying mammals in the world; the other being the platypus.