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, Guillens 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 Ive 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
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
cant wait until the day that I become an animal-care technician
Added Guillen, This has been great experience. We love it.
Its the best job Ive ever had.