AFSME Local 602 - MSU Moorhead

The Real Visitors’ Guides

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Local 1842’s Abu Kawo

Zoo visitors always have questions. It’s up to customer service staff like Local 1842’s Abu Kawo to have answers. “What’s that animal’s name? How old is it? What does it eat? How much does it weigh?” “Where’s the bathroom?” “How do I get out of here?”

When Kawo started at Como Zoo in 2007, he went through two weeks of training to learn the answers – or at least to learn who’s got the answers if he doesn’t. On a typical day, he’s assigned to a particular exhibit or section of the zoo, where he’s part answer man, part security. “You just walk around, make sure people are not messing with the animals,” he says. He’s also certified in first aid, so he can respond to a medical emergency until paramedics arrive.

The more crowded the zoo, the better Kawo likes it, he says. “I just like meeting people.”

Membership keeps zoo growing in popularity

At the Minnesota Zoo, Local 1929’s Melissa Warhol meets people in a different way. She works in membership. That means she fields the phone calls and emails from people who want to join.

More than 44,000 households are paying members of the Minnesota Zoo, up 21 percent in the past year alone. There are days when Warhol has to enter 200 or 300 new members into the database. Her office is turning into a seven-day-a-week operation.

Membership is “a huge piece of the puzzle” for the zoo’s financial health, she says. Paid memberships bring in $3 million a year, or about 15 percent of the zoo’s revenue.

“I believe it’s one of the greatest deals around town,” she says. “For a family of four, you can go to the zoo as many times as you want, with free parking, for $95.”

Keeping members informed and engaged is another part of Warhol’s job. “We really take pride in reaching out, communicating with the members, making them feel like they belong here, that we want them here.”

She puts out email newsletters twice a month to 31,000 households, letting members know about new exhibits, member-only discounts, special events and, of course, the latest baby animals.

Betcha didn’t know

  • At The Minnesota Zoo, all front-line staff wear green shirts. At Como, staff shirts are color-coded. Zookeepers wear tan. Customer service staff wear blue. Volunteers wear khaki vests. 

Adapted from the July/August 2009 issue of Council 5's Stepping Up magazine

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