Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


March 25, 2002

Trainees bring enthusiasm to Field Station

By Poul Olson


His first day on the job at the Yerkes Field Station last September, Asael Juarez thought he had walked into a scene out of Jurassic Park. He and his five Mexican colleagues had never seen a monkey or chimp in the flesh, let alone thousands of them in one place. The workers’ awe soon gave way to enthusiasm as they quickly learned the basics of animal care.

After a four-month trial as temporary employees, in January all six of the Spanish-speaking workers were hired as full-time animal-care trainees. With their appointment, the Field Station now has a full complement of animal care staff.

Juarez, Fidelina Solis, Estrella Cano, Monserrat Sanchez, Armando Guillen and Reyna Perez all came to the Field Station through a temporary employment agency. Hearing that the station was in need of help, Guillen’s sister, who worked at the Atlanta agency, first told her unemployed brother about the positions. In turn, he passed along the tip to Perez and longtime friend Juarez. Before long, word had spread to several other acquaintances in the Norcross neighborhood where all six of the new hires live.

Much of the responsibility for training the new trainees has fallen on Animal Care Supervisor Mike Venable. With some of the six Mexican workers unable to speak fluent English, Venable has had to rely on Juarez and Guillen to translate instructions to the others.

Fortunately, Venable said, their dedication and strong work ethic has eased the challenges of the training process.

“What has really made a difference in their ability to understand their jobs,” he said, “has been their eagerness to learn and enthusiasm about being here.”

Juarez likewise credited Venable for his patience and teaching style. “He has done a great job of explaining to us how to recognize monkeys with injuries or illnesses,” Juarez said.

Aside from the language barrier, the biggest challenge facing the new animal care trainees has been learning the nuances of animal behavior. Perez, speaking through her son, recalled the first time she encountered a monkey. “I was so scared,” she said, “but now I’ve gotten used to them.”

Yerkes has taken steps to ensure good communication between the new employees and their English-speaking co-workers. The standard operating procedures and other training materials have been translated into Spanish. Later this spring, all of the non-English speakers will take language classes. A course in basic conversational Spanish also is being offered at both the Main Station and Field Station.

Living in close proximity to one another has enabled the group to commute together, thus easing the transportation burden for those without cars.

Hearing of their adventures at the Field Station, friends and relatives of the new animal-care workers initially react with disbelief and laughter. “They think we work at a zoo,” Guillen said. “But after we explain what we do, they become really interested in working here themselves.”

As for the future, the new hires share an enthusiastic outlook. “We all love it here,” Juarez said with a smile. “I can’t wait until the day that I become an animal-care technician IV.”

Added Guillen, “This has been great experience. We love it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”