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Volunteers at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

Most Smithsonian volunteer programs are temporarily paused until further notice. New opportunities at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute will be posted after the return of active volunteer programs, which may not be until 2022. Please continue to check this page for updates.

Donating more than 90,000 hours of time each year, volunteers provide invaluable support to the Zoo's two facilities: the Smithsonian's National Zoo, located in Washington, D.C., and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, located in Front Royal, Virginia. Opportunities for volunteering include aiding animal keepers, interpreting animal behavior for visitors, maintaining Zoo grounds and gardens, and assisting with special events.

Volunteer at the Zoo

Volunteer opportunities at the Zoo include education, animal care and science support, horticulture and special events.

Volunteer at SCBI

Volunteer programs at the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute, located in Front Royal, Virginia, fall into two categories: education and animal care and science support.

Teen Volunteers

Explore summer volunteer opportunities for teens between 13 and 17 years old.

About Volunteering

Volunteers have the opportunity to learn about animals and help educate the public about conservation and animal care.

Age requirement: Volunteers must be at least 18 years old to apply for most positions, including keeper aides, behavior watchers, education interpreters, and some special events. During the summer months, there is a volunteer program for teens, ages 13 and up. 

Time commitment: Most volunteer programs require at least a 1-year commitment due to the extensive training required. Please see each position posting for information on requirements for that particular program. Some short-term and single day opportunities are available. 

Recruitment Process: Each volunteer opportunity has an application and interview process. If accepted, full-time volunteers must pass a Smithsonian background check and complete initial training. Please be aware that some positions may also require proof of certain vaccinations.

Volunteer 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
  • 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

Frequently Asked Questions about Volunteering

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.

SCBI is the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. This facility, which houses research programs and vulnerable species, is located in Front Royal, Virginia, roughly 70 miles west of Washington, D.C. Both SCBI and the Smithsonian's National Zoo have volunteer opportunities. Learn more about SCBI.

We offer a teen volunteer program in the summer for ages 13 through 17. Recruiting for this program typically begins in January, so mark your calendar! To learn more about the program, including how to apply and what the interview process is like, please see the teen volunteer opportunities.

Visit the wildlife careers page to find everything from the education and experience needed to work in this field to profiles of different zoo careers. 

We are unable to accommodate requests to shadow or interview animal care and science staff at the Zoo. Learn about wildlife careers.

Volunteering at the Zoo will count for Student Service Learning (SSL) hours if your school includes the Smithsonian's National Zoo on their list of approved institutions.

The Zoo does not offer court-ordered community service.

Please feel free to contact us. Also, check your junk/spam folder to make sure you have not missed an email.