When you have an all consuming interest in something you may soon find your regular circle of friends and family do their utmost to avoid your fascinating observations and insights on the topic. This is where clubs and societies come in, bringing together enthusiasts to share their passion for a common interest.
I have belonged to a few animal clubs and societies myself and met all sorts of people along the way, some of whom have become lifelong friends. From the lovely gecko enthusiast who guided me in the care of these fascinating reptiles, to the beetle expert who was more interested in playing footsies under the table than furthering our entomological interests - the people attending these groups are a diverse bunch, just as fascinating as the subjects they love so much.
The combined knowledge of individual animal clubs is substantial, particularly amongst senior members with a great deal of experience and expertise. Their generosity to share this with others is one of the major benefits of becoming a member yourself.
There are many other advantages to be had from joining a club. Some, like the NZ Kennel Club's nationwide agility groups are not only a great way to meet others sharing a mutual interest, they provide an opportunity to do something fun and active with your pet and even compete nationally.
Ben Taylor, a veteran of fish and reptile groups both here and in the UK cites access to information and help with problem solving as the best thing about belonging to a club. When an exotic pet is unwell or husbandry issues arise, the local vet may not have the answers you need. Ben also says that NZ clubs are a little friendlier in NZ, with members willing to help each other out, though there is not the emphasis on field trips that he enjoyed in the UK. Ben is a member of the Federation of New Zealand Aquatic Societies.
Bird enthusiasts are well catered for, with the NZ Federation of Bird Clubs listing a large number of local groups. President of the Auckland Metro Bird Club, Dave Nicholson says benefits include access to discounted accessories and quality livestock as well as companionship and encouragement from others. There is also the opportunity to exhibit at shows and visit other member's aviaries up and down the country.
Some things to avoid upon joining an established club:
• Don't charge in and announce that the club needs a 'shake up' and that you intend running for president.
• Respect the opinions of other members even if you don't agree with them.
• Meetings are not an opportunity for you to demonstrate your immense knowledge constantly.
• Don't criticise long established protocols and procedures at your first meeting
• Never utter contempt for the omnipresent acroroc cups and instant coffee offerings that make an appearance post meeting.
What you should do:
• Listen to the knowledge of others and learn from it
• Offer to help
• Ask lots of questions
• Take your turn on the committee when the opportunity arises
• Get to know members - even the ones proclaiming their interest with a never ending supply of garish tee shirts.
There is a club for most animal enthusiasts, from large conservation groups like Forest and Bird through to those representing members with a specific interest such as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and even rats.
Bringing any group of people together will result in a degree of politics as people have different opinions and different ways of doing things. This doesn't seem to be a major issue in animal clubs with a few exceptions of overly enthusiastic new member ruffling feathers and the inevitable disagreements on the judging table.
A more serious issue mentioned was that clubs devoted to animals such as birds and reptiles sometimes attract a criminal element, aware of the value of certain species overseas. (see animal smugglers article). The reluctance of members to serve on the committee, leaving the same few people to do all the work is also a source of irritation - and after seven years on the Herpetological Society committee I must concur, though it was an enjoyable time.
Animal clubs are certainly a great way to share a passion with like minded people, to further your knowledge and enjoy the friendship of others.