August Lambrecht practically grew up at the San Antonio Zoo. Now the Alamo Heights teen is a standout volunteer and fundraiser for the organization that means so much to him.
When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the zoo temporarily this spring, August’s volunteer duties were put on hold. So he started raising money for the San Antonio Zoo Recovery fund, asking friends to honor his birthday with donations.
His goal was $1,000; by his May 2 birthday he had raised nearly $2,500. Now as part of the online recovery campaign, he’s set a goal of $5,000. By mid-June, August’s total neared $3,500.
The youth’s connection to the zoo started early, thanks to his mother, Burgin Streetman.
“We went to the Witte (Museum), the Children’s Museum (now The DoSeum), lots of places,” Streetman said, “but by the time he could say where he wanted to go, it was the zoo. We went all the time. By 14 months he could spot all the 200 animals in his animal dictionary. When he was 2, he got obsessed with birds and could name every single one.”
Love of animals runs in the family. August’s maternal grandmother was an artist with a passion for wildlife conservation.
“We always had a hummingbird or a bat or a badger around the house,” Streetman said. “When August was 3, we went to visit and her yard was full of guys with falcons.”
Her son has fond memories of the visits to the zoological gardens in Brackenridge Park.
“Growing up we would go to the zoo every week, sometimes multiple times,” August said. “I did the Roots & Shoots program and the summer camps.”
He wants to work with animals as a career, he said, perhaps as a game warden or a field researcher. He’s especially fascinated with big birds, such as cranes and ostriches, and loves the zoo’s Hixon Bird House.
It was only natural that when he turned 14 last May he applied for the zoo’s Summer Naturalist program, to help college interns teach zoo visitors about wildlife conservation. He was selected.
“After his first summer with that program, we could see the breadth and depth and extent of his knowledge and enthusiasm, so he moved up into the year-round ZooTEAM program,” said Lisa Townsend, the zoo’s education director of guest encounters.
As one of a dozen carefully chosen ZooTEAM members, August had to commit to working 12 volunteer hours a month. He often worked 10 hours a week. By March, when the program went on hiatus as the zoo shut down, August racked up 230 hours.
According to Jessica Wolanski, the zoo’s education coordinator for community volunteers, ZooTEAM members perform a wide range of activities, from interacting with visitors at special events such as Zoo Boo and Zoo Lights to helping teach conservation principles and even shadowing zookeepers.
“There is some grunt work, like cleaning out enclosures or preparing food or washing dishes, but it is really exciting to be there,” August said. “I have gotten to help feed endangered animals and go into areas the public never gets to see. I got to feed seahorses with this very long tube with bloodworms in it, and you get right it up in their face to feed them. I got to hold a baby flamingo that had been operated on for a broken neck, and now it can live a normal life. And I get to help on the Giraffe Feeding deck, making sure people don’t get too close.”
Volunteers learn early to take their jobs, and the animals, seriously.
“When a giraffe hits you with its (heavy) head it could kill you. I’ve had them swing at me,” August said. “One time I wasn’t paying enough attention and a giraffe bit the back of my shirt and twisted his tongue around it and started dragging me backwards. They have their own personalities, and sometimes they have off days. I feel like I know their whole life stories.”
Townsend has seen August in action.
“One day last fall I watched him at the giraffe exhibit telling a group of children everything he loved about giraffes and why giraffes are important,” she said. “Fostering that love and respect for these iconic animals is so important. And as a little kid, to have a big kid tell you that what you think is important can influence your life. To little kids, these teens are superstars. The animals need advocates, and they have a great advocate in August.”
Wolanski said August is amazing.
“He was one of the very first to start raising money for the zoo’s emergency relief fund,” she added.
Getting donations for the zoo is great, August said, but by mid-June he was champing at the bit to get back to volunteering in person. He and his mom did the Zoo Drive-Thru twice and continue to visit now that it is opening up.
“The second day we were open to foot traffic, there was August just walking through,” Townsend said. “The passion that brings him here fits hand in glove with our real mission, securing a future for wildlife. It’s going to be their future, too. To see young people so engaged and responsible responding to that mission and sharing the message inspires us all.”