Lesley Avant Wins

Lesley Avant receives an Award of Merit 
from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) 

Congratulations to our hardworking Zoo Society board member and gift shop manager.  She was nominated by the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo for the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums Volunteer of the Year.
Much to our disappointment, Lesley did not win that award.  However, CAZA recognized her contributions to the Saskatoon Zoo Society and the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo with an Award of Merit at the annual CAZA conference in October 2011.

The Saskatoon Zoo Society congratulates Lesley Avant on this well deserved recognition.

Here is the text from the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo nomination letter:

The Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo is proud to nominate Lesley Avant for the CAZA Volunteer of the Year award in 2011. She has been associated with this facility for over thirty years in both a volunteer and staff capacity. Lesley also volunteers for the Saskatoon SPCA on a regular basis. Her dedication to the Forestry Farm Park and Zoo, our animals, the Saskatoon Zoo Society and the Saskatoon SPCA is exemplary. 


Lesley has dedicated much of her volunteer time to advancing a respect for all animals in the City of Saskatoon. Her work on education initiatives, our guided train tour interpretation and her help in setting up a facility wide recycling program is just a small sampling of the effort she has put in to make our facility a better place for our animals and the people who visit us.


Early in 1976 a notice was put out to form an organization called the Saskatoon Regional Zoological Society. The City of Saskatoon had just established the Zoo at the Forestry Farm Park a few years previously and various members of the public, some members of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and other staff of several other University departments dealing with life sciences got together to form an organization with the expressed purpose of providing education to the general public about the Zoo and its animals. Lesley Avant was on the very first Board and she has been involved in one capacity or another ever since. She took care of Membership, was Secretary and helped to arrange for speakers for our monthly public meetings, including producing posters for them to send out with the monthly newsletter.


When the Society convinced the City of Saskatoon that we could provide a valuable service on-site through guided tours, Lesley was involved in those. She was on the committee that planned and carried out our first Family Day at the Zoo event and continued to do so until we eventually had paid staff to assist. Along with several other Board Members over the years, Lesley has sat on several committees that worked on concept plans for the Zoo and Park.


When the opportunity arose for the Saskatoon Zoo Society to take over the running of the food concession and to collect entry fees at the Zoo gate, Lesley was willing to take on the Manager’s job. The contract was signed in 1988 and the shop opened for business in 1989.  She had experience in retail and thought this would be fun to do for a year or two. A gift shop was added to the food concession in 1990 and the business acquired the name Paws Inn. She has now been managing this business for 22 years. When opportunities arise to further promote the gift shop, such as during story-times sessions in the winter, she has done so. When the shop is closed during the winter she will take calls at home to accommodate customers. The purpose of the concession and gift shop is to help provide funds for the educational programs of the Zoo Society and to be the front-line for visitors to the site. Lesley has always trained her staff (she has developed an extensive training manual) to be the best ambassadors for the Zoo and Park. Her staff must learn as much as possible about the Zoo, the animals, what animals have had babies and how to deal with the not-always pleasant or reasonable general public. In other words, her heart has been in this from the very beginning.


With the shop being seasonal, Lesley has still found time to be involved with hands-on work with some of our socialized animals and has faithfully, week in and week out, spent one day a week as a volunteer on our feeding and socializing schedule for some of these animals.


Several years ago an Advisory Committee was formed to develop a branding and interpretive plan. Lesley has sat on that committee as a volunteer and provided valuable insight. She also sits on an internal Facility Committee that meets periodically to discuss matters dealing with the site.


The Society acquired an interactive “money mill” (people put a coin in and it produces a response). Lesley and several other volunteers, Board members and staff, have been working on making dioramas on each level of this structure with each one depicting a different animal found within our Zoo with the appropriate background and scenery.


Lesley continues to provide insight and a real sense of caring to our organization and she always participates actively in our Board meetings.


As the Manager of the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo I fully endorse this nomination and hope that the selection committee will recognize the contributions that Lesley has made to our facility by honoring her with the CAZA Volunteer of the Year Award.


Saskatoon Zoo Society members support our worthwhile environmental education programs. Admission to the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park Zoo is just one of the perks of your annual membership fee!

Everyone is welcome to Adopt-a-Critter. It is a wild and unusual gift that shows you care. Donations are used to enhance the living conditions of the animals at the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo and to fund the educational programs of the Saskatoon Zoo Society.