Volunteer at the National Zoo
Donating more than 90,000 hours of time each year, volunteers offer invaluable support to the Zoo's two facilities: The Smithsonian's National Zoo, located in Washington DC; and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, located in Front Royal, Virginia. There are fun and exciting opportunities for all interests working with the public or behind the scenes, plants and animals, independently and in groups, or on weekdays and weekends.
Volunteers are exposed to amazing learning opportunities while helping the Zoo with fun education and conservation activities!
What do I need to Know About Volunteering?
Volunteer Time Commitment
Most volunteer programs require at least a 1-year commitment due to the extensive training required. Keeper aides are required to do one full-day shift or one half-day shift each week for the year. Other programs, including education interpreters, require a set number of shifts per month. Please see each position posting for information on requirements for that particular program.
Short-term opportunities are available assisting with special events and office projects as they arise.
You must be at least 18 years old to apply for most positions including keeper aide, behavior watcher, education interpreter, and some special events.
*We do offer a program for teens, ages 13 and up, during the summer. An interest in animals and conservation is a must.
Each program has an application and interview process. Please submit yout application as outlined in each position description. If accepted, full-time volunteers must pass a Smithsonian background check, complete initial training, become a FONZ member in their first year of volunteering (volunteers receive a 25% discount on FONZ memberships), and pay the orientation/training fee.*
Please be aware that some Zoo support positions may also require proof of certain vaccinations.
*Current fees are $20 for Zoo support positions and $30 for education/behavior watch positions (includes volunteer shirt and name badge). Options are available for individuals for whom the fees and membership may not be manageable; please speak to the contact person listed for the position you are interested in for available options.
Currently Recruiting For...
Benefits of Volunteering
Volunteers at the Zoo have the opportunity to learn about, help, and educate the public about extraordinary animals. Other benefits include:
- Free parking while at the zoo for volunteer shifts
- Discounts at Zoo gift shops
- Discounts at Mane Grill and food locations with a cash register
- Select FONZ event tickets available at the reduced member price
- Use of the FONZ library and volunteer lounge/kitchen
- A discount when joining FONZ
- Invitations to the annual volunteer appreciation events
- Supplemental accident insurance for out-of-pocket medical expenses for injuries that occurred while volunteering
- Free membership in the Volunteer Association at the Smithsonian's National Zoo
FAQ's about Volunteering
What is SCBI and where is it located?
SCBI is the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; This facility, which houses research programs and vulnerable species is located in Front Royal, VA, roughly 70 miles west of Washington, DC. Both the SCBI and the Zoo have volunteer opportunities. Learn more about SCBI >
I can't commit to a year-long program. Are there short-term opportunities?
Yes! We offer one-day or short-term volunteer opportunities at special events like Boo at the Zoo, ZooFari, and ZooLights, as well as a limited number of group "day of service" volunteer opportunities. Occasionally, when the need arises, we recruit volunteers for short-term positions, ranging from one day to a few weeks. Please check the currently recruiting page for these opportunities. Due to the extensive training, as well as health and safety requirements, there are no short-term keeper aide or interpretive program opportunities. Learn more about our programs at the Zoo in Washington, DC and at SCBI in Front Royal, VA.
Are there any internship opportunities at the National Zoo?
Yes. Please see Internships and Fellowships for more information on current opportunities and when to apply.
As a volunteer, will I be allowed to touch or interact with the animals?
While volunteers have the opportunity to learn about the amazing animals living at the Zoo, there are no volunteer opportunities that work directly with animals or involve touching an animal.
I am under the age of 18. How can I get involved?
We offer a teen volunteer program in the summer for ages 13 through 17. Recruiting for this program begins in early February, so mark your calendar! To learn more about the program, including how to apply and what our interview process is like, please visit our Teen Volunteer Page. For students under the age of 13, we recommend you find out more about our camps and classes.
How frequently are new volunteer positions posted?
Frequency of volunteer postings depend on the type of position and current needs of the Zoo.
Education positions are posted approximately four times each calendar year, typically in fall, winter, and early spring. The Zoo Guide program typically trains once a year in January and February, with the remaining trainings rotating through the other education programs depending upon need. We do not recruit for every Education program each year.
Zoo Support positions (Keeper Aide, Behavior Watch, Zoo Help) are posted on an as-needed basis.
Special Event positions are typically posted one month before the event takes place, and will remain posted until the day of the event or until we have reached our capacity for volunteers. Events we recruit for annually include Easter Monday: A Washington Family Tradition (April), ZooFari (May), Brew at the Zoo (July), Boo at the Zoo (October), Night of the Living Zoo (October), and ZooLights (November-December).
I am looking to learn more about what it's like to work at a Zoo. What should I do?
Visit Wildlife Careers to find everything from the education and experience needed to work in this field to profiles of different zoo careers. You can also check out an upcoming career program here at the Zoo where you will have the opportunity to ask animal keepers, veterinarians, researchers, scientists, and other zoo professionals your questions about careers in zoos and wildlife conservation. The Zoo hosts these programs for middle, high school, and college-aged students throughout the year. Please visit Wildlife Careers to learn more about upcoming career programs.
Are there opportunities to job shadow or interview Zoo staff?
We are unable to accommodate requests to shadow or interview animal care and science staff at the Zoo. Learn about wildlife careers >
Does volunteering at the Zoo count towards community service hours?
Volunteering at the Zoo will count for Student Service Learning (SSL) hours if your school includes the National Zoo/Friends of the National Zoo on their list of approved institutions.
The Zoo does not offer court-ordered community service.
I filled out an online application, but have not heard anything. What should I do?
Please feel free to send us an email. Also, check your junk/spam folder to make sure it's not there.