Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo




Our Washingtonian of the Year

Congratulations to FONZ volunteer Ann Bissell named "Washingtonian of the Year" for 2014! For more than a decade, Ann has volunteered at Elephant Trails as a keeper aide, cleaning stalls and preparing meals for Ambika, Shanthi, Bozie, Kamala, Maharani, Swarna, and Kandula. Her dedication was recently acknowledged by former Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough, who described Ann's passion for the elephants as trumping her interests in opera, book groups, and sleep—considering her day starts at 4 a.m.! Ann described volunteering as a "joyful commitment." Her outreach extends past elephants, as she is a member of the FONZ Advisory Board and an avid donor to our research and animal care programs. All in all, we are grateful to have Ann as a conservationist, friend, and member of our Zoo community. Click here to read the Washingtonian feature.


Volunteers offer invaluable support to the Smithsonian National Zoo's two facilities-the main Washington D.C.campus,and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia; providing over 90,000 hours of service each year. There are fun and exciting opportunities for all interests whether they be 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! Find out about benefits of volunteering.

Current Needs

Find out about our one-of-a-kind projects and activities and other terrific opportunities on the Currently Recruiting For... page.


Time Commitment: Most volunteer programs require a year's commitment due to the extensive training required. Keeper aides are required to do one full-day or one half-day a week for the year and other programs including education interpreters have a required number of shifts per month. Please see the position posting for information on requirements for that particular program.

* Short-term opportunities are available assisting with our special events and office projects as they arise

Age Requirement: You must be at least 18 years old to apply for most positions including keeper aide, behavior watcher, education interpreter, and several special events.

*Although most volunteers must be at least 18 years old, we do offer a program for younger teens aged 13 and up during the summer months. An interest in animals and their conservation is a must.


Recruitment: Each program has an application and interview process. Once 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.*

* Current Fees are $20 for Zoo Help Positions and $30 for Education/Behavior Watch Positions (includes volunteer shirt and namebadge). 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.

Volunteer Programs

Washington, D.C. Programs

Our numerous volunteer programs at the Zoo's main campus in D.C. fall into these four categories:

  • Education—Exhibit education interpreters and tour guides
  • Zoo Support—Behavior watch, keeper aide, horticulture, and more
  • Special Events—ZooFari, Boo at the Zoo, and more
  • Teen Volunteers—FONZ Summer camp class aides
  • Group Volunteers-horticulture, zoo clean-up, special events, and more

Questions? Please call 202.633.3025 or email us.

Front Royal, Virginia, Programs

Our volunteer programs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (formerly known as the Conservation and Research Center) in Front Royal, Virginia, fall into these two areas:

  • Education—tour guides, outreach help, lecture series assistant
  • Support—keeper aides, ecology assistant, office support

Questions? Please call the the FONZ Education Office at SCBI 540.635.6540 or email us.