My job: sweet-smelling success

Jodie Shaw is mental health support worker, a horticulturalist and a business manager

Zoo Doo

Jodie Shaw

“It’s quite hard telling people where I work,” says mental health support worker, Jodie Shaw. “I tell them I work for the Waitemata District Health Board, and they ask me where.

“I say I work at the zoo and they say ‘Pardon?’

“I then tell them I work with poo. They don’t quite get it.”

Jodie works at ZooDoo, located between large African cats, baboons and an elephant at Auckland Zoo. The non-profit business is run by a partnership of Work Foundations, a Waitemata DHB service and Second Chance.

The zoo is home to 875 animals from 138 species. That’s a lot of poo and an unusual waste problem.

ZooDoo composts most of the zoo’s “endangered faeces” using a state of the art composting system and a custom-designed bagging system. The product is sold on TradeMe, at garden centres and at zoo gift shops.

Workers compost seven cubic metres of large herbivore manure a day; including antelopes, bison, camels, hippos, elephants, giraffes, llamas, rhinos and zebras. Carnivore poo, which is smelly and noxious, is dumped at the tip.

ZooDoo bills itself as “the number 1 in number 2’s”. But it’s not just its “freshly squeezed in New Zealand” product that makes it unique.

ZooDoo is a recovery-based, assisted employment programme for people affected by mental illness.

It started in 1991 with four staff and now employs more than 60 across Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Jodie runs the Auckland site, where she has worked for 18 months. She spends half her time running the business and half providing mental health support to the programme’s participants.

“I sort of fell into the job,” she laughs. “I never thought I’d be based at a zoo and certainly not doing this.”

Jodie, who previously worked in mental and public health, says she’s learnt a lot about running a business and horticulture. “It’s a little bit different, but it’s awesome.”

She runs two teams of four to six individuals, with the help of an occupational therapist.

“I work alongside and support the guys to achieve their goals,” she says. “I help them get whatever they want out of the programme.

“You get to see their improvements; they build confidence and improve their communication skills.”

No one sees working with poo as degrading, she says. “Kids come past and [comment on the smell], but I don’t notice it anymore.”

While most of the manure is dumped out front, the rhino manure comes from an amazing underground machine, she says.

“I’m not sure how it gets into the other end, but the machines turns [like a screw] and the doo drops out at our end.” 

The team collects the manure, composts it safely to remove weeds and disease, adds zoo bedding straw and bark, and then bag it with a machine. The final product is safe and high in nutrients, and according to the ZooDoo website “sweet-smelling”.

ZooDoo also sells poo sculptures. The shaped fertilisers are heat-treated, safe and odourless, and break down when watered in the garden.

“It’s one of the best jobs you can have,” Jodie says. “It’s more than a job and I’m proud to work here.”

In addition to working at ZooDoo, Jodie is studying “Mental Health and Addictions” at Auckland University of Technology. She is also a St John’s volunteer and is completing a national diploma in paramedics.


This article is from the June 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.