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Three Cheers for Volunteers

Volunteers are the backbone of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, providing critical services that amplify our work to save species and educate future generations of conservation leaders. Each year, over 1,400 volunteers donate more than 90,000 hours of time. They support all aspects of our operation, from connecting with families that have just seen their first lion to welcoming guests at special events, cultivating the beautiful Zoo grounds and even hauling heavy loads of elephant poop.

American Trail keepers at the Smithsonian's National Zoo pose with gray seal Gunther and hold a sign that says, "Thank you to all of the wonderful volunteers for your hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm!"

American trail keepers hold a sign that says ,"Thank you to all of the wonderful volunteers for your hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm!"

Volunteers are the heart of our organization, sharing their passion for wildlife and wild places not only with guests but also with friends and family at home. We appreciate them every single day, but this week, National Volunteer Appreciation Week, is an especially great time to recognize their dedication. We asked staff members to describe the impact of these immense volunteer contributions, and the response was overwhelming. Here are a few of their thoughts:

They Inspire Us

Volunteers from all walks of life donate their time and energy to the Zoo and SCBI. Students, parents, grandparents, lawyers, nurses, teachers and so many more come together with a common love and enthusiasm for wildlife. They remind us all why we come to work every day.

“They bring us their wisdom and life experiences, and sometimes a different perspective.” – Marie Galloway, Assistant Curator, Elephants

“Working with volunteers is one of the best parts of being a keeper here at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. I enjoy getting to know each and every one. They always make the work day that much more fun with their great attitudes.” – Lori Smith, Animal Keeper, Bird House

“Volunteers provide dozens of talks each summer for Safari Day Campers. Campers love learning from our interpreters, because they share special biofacts and information (like animals' names) that make them feel like the most important people in the Zoo. Volunteers inspire our campers to champion wildlife and wild places!” – Elise Bernardoni, Assistant Director, Education Programs

A golden lion tamarin perched on a tree branch reaches for pieces of fruit attached to a stick. The fruit is next to a sign that says "Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month!"

They Make the Zoo a Better Place

Volunteer work reaches all corners of the Zoo. With smiles, enthusiasm and passion, volunteers make the Zoo a better place for guests, animals and staff alike. The Zoo would not be the same without them.

“[Volunteers] are fundamental to the spirit of this place” – Ed Smith, Assistant Curator, Amazonia

“Volunteers are essential to making each and every event a success. Without [their] hard work we could not manage the registration points, staff the bars or soda/water stations, respond to vendor needs, provide information to our guests and the list goes on.” – Helen Moore, Event Manager

“Horticulture volunteers are amazing! Pulling weeds, raking and watering plants is not the most glamorous work, but it’s so important. Our volunteers help us make the Zoo a beautiful and inviting space for our visitors and staff. We would be lost without them!” – Tina Scott, Horticulturist

They Never Quit

Their unwavering dedication, commitment and support lifts our spirits both in times of triumph and times of hardship. We know that we can always count on volunteers to be there — calling, emailing or knocking on our door to ask what they can do to help.

“They are so willing to help and dedicated to the animals. We can't thank them enough for it!” – Nikki Maticic, Animal Keeper, Lion/Tiger, Kids’ Farm and Andean Bears

“In these unprecedented times we are currently in, that has never been more apparent. Our loyal and dedicated keeper aides continue to show up for their shifts.” – Becky Malinsky, Assistant Curator, Primates

An Asian elephant in the Elephant Community Center uses its trunk to hold up a sign thanking volunteers. The sign says "Sending you elephant kisses of thanks. Thank you." and the right side of the sign has an elephant trunk print

Our volunteers are role models to us all, demonstrating simple ways to put a passion for animals and conservation into action. Interested in joining the volunteer program? Check the Volunteer page when the Zoo reopens for information on how to become a volunteer. In the meantime, show your support from home by following the Zoo on social media with #NatZooZen, tuning in to the live animal webcams or donating to the Zoo’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund.

We thank our volunteers for everything they do and look forward to the day that we can welcome them back through our gates.