Parisian volunteer happy to help ecosanctuary

French student Loan Venkatapen sets a possum trap at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Photo by Jane...
French student Loan Venkatapen sets a possum trap at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Swapping the cosy confines of the cafe culture in central Paris for the Orokonui Ecosanctuary was a daunting experience for French engineering student Loan Venkatapen.

The 20-year-old has spent the past five weeks as a volunteer at the conservation park and admits the snow, winter gales and horizontal rain were far from his comfort zone.

He arrived wearing pure white shoes, at a time of the year when he would usually be enjoying summer holidays in Europe, he said.

"In the beginning, I was a bit homesick. But this is a great job, I think. The staff are great and this [the ecosanctuary] is one of the best views I have ever seen. In France, we do not have that."

Mr Venkatapen is in his third year of study for a construction engineering degree at Ecole Speciale des Travaux Publics in Paris and said his volunteer work was part of his studies.

"To get my degree, I have to spend five weeks in a foreign country to do technical work - something other than construction work. It is supposed to make us more well rounded and give us an open mind."

Mr Venkatapen said he had always wanted to visit New Zealand and discovered the ecosanctuary while searching the Internet for work placements.

Since early August, he has been helping with pest monitoring and track construction.

Orokonui Ecosanctuary general manager Chris Baillie said Mr Venkatapen typified the universal interest in what Orokonui was trying to achieve in preserving flora and fauna.

She said he was one of many volunteers from all walks of life who regularly put in at least 800 hours a month in a variety of roles including fence monitoring, planting, weeding, building and administration.

Mr Venkatapen, who finished working at Orokonui on Thursday, was due to return to Paris next week.

"I will miss the people and the wildlife when I go home. But most of all, I will miss the peace and quiet here."


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