Volunteer opportunities at the Zoo include education, Zoo support, special events, and group projects.
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. Current Volunteer Login
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. An interest in animals and conservation is a must.
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.
Recruitment Process: Each volunteer opportunity has an application and interview process. Please submit your application as outlined in the 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 (fee 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.
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.
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 in duration 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.
Frequency of volunteer postings depends on the type of position and the current needs of the Zoo.
Education positions are posted approximately three 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.
Support positions (keeper aides, behavior watchers, etc.) are posted on an as-needed basis.
Special event positions are typically posted one month before the event takes place and 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 through December).
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 begins in early February, 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. For students under the age of 13, we recommend you find out more about our camps and classes.
Visit Wildlife Careers to find everything from the education and experience needed to work in this field to profiles of different zoo careers. Additionally, SCBI holds an annual Conservation Discovery Day event, which is a great opportunity for sixth-graders to undergrads to learn about careers in conservation. This event features hands-on activities, research demonstrations, and career panel discussions all focusing on working in the field of wildlife conservation.
Volunteering at the Zoo will count for Student Service Learning (SSL) hours if your school includes the Smithsonian's National Zoo/Friends of the National Zoo on their list of approved institutions.
The Zoo does not offer court-ordered community service.