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Henry/Handler Storytime

This role is now full for the 2024 season! Still interested in being part of the crew? Call or email us at 608-283-1612/ Spots do open up occasionally, and we would be happy to get you on the wait list.


Henry the Lion and Handlers are a staple of any visit to the Henry Vilas Zoo. If you’re a pair of enthusiastic people who enjoy being goofy and making kids smile, then Henry is for you.

The Henry/Handler Storytime is new to volunteer opportunities for 2024! As a team you’ll be greeting families and reading conservation-themed animal stories to entering guests. The Handler will read the story with vim and vigor, while Henry acts and reacts. Between storytimes, your team will be offering high-fives to kids, waving at our guests, and participating in many a photo-op. Henry volunteers may be called up to attend a variety of special events – both on and off grounds. These events include, but are not limited to: HVZ’s Run Wild, Boo at the Zoo & Zoo Lights, holiday celebrations, parades, and even sporting events.

“I gave out so many high fives! Those were some of the most excited kids I’ve ever seen.”

Mark, Henry the Lion Handler


  • Read stories to excited Zoo guests as the Handler, or act out stories alongside the reader as Henry!
  • Greet guests at the Zoo gates with a wave
  • Pose for photos
  • Congratulate kids who interact with Henry – it can be intimidating getting that close to a lion!
  • Interpret for Henry by explaining his actions.
  • Be Henry’s eyes and ears while in costume. Assist your partner in navigating the many terrains and guest interactions on and off site
  • Represent Henry Vilas Zoo at onsite and public offsite events
  • Transport the costume as needed for offsite events
  • Properly store the costume at HVZ when not in use

Volunteering For All

Henry and his Handler move over all manner of terrain both on and offsite. Henry wears several pieces of costuming, while the Handler wears a vest. Because Henry has no peripheral vision and cannot talk, he must have his Handler with him at all times to assist with interpretation and guidance. Henry is always within easy walking distance to behind-the-scenes access in the event he needs a break. Offsite opportunities also come with a guaranteed changing/storage area, and an onsite contact for the event. It gets very hot inside the Henry costume regardless of outside temperature. The Henry part of this role may not be suited for those with sensitivity to heat. Volunteers in this role should feel comfortable with close proximity to guests – and should expect that unexpected hugs can come with the territory.

**Please note: although Henry is often seen standing, we are more than happy to have a lounging lion in a chair/wheelchair when needed.

Requirements & Skills
  • A team of 2
  • At least 14 years of age
  • Able to lift at least 20lbs
  • Able to sit/stand 1-1.5hrs at a time
  • Able to focus on one thing at a time
  • Very comfortable working around many people
  • Able to communicate positively and clearly
  • Enjoys acting, miming, improv, and working with kids and the challenges they bring

Time Commitment

7.5hrs/mo: Henry/Handler teams commit to a weekly shift with a minimum of x3 shifts/mo between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Shifts are 9-11AM on Fridays or Saturdays, with time spent in costume 9:30-10:30AM.

2 special events: Henry/Handler teams also commit to a minimum of two special events, either on or offsite, between Memorial Day and December.

Henry and his Handler see some of the busiest times at Henry Vilas Zoo. They are here to great the guests as they enter the Zoo in the mornings. They are also a major part of our large events, as well as several events throughout Dane County.


All of these trainings are available as refreshers at any point upon request. Optional trainings allow you to try out other roles as shifts become available. They do not add to your minimum requirements (i.e. training in on another role doesn’t require you to add another set of weekly shifts). Training spots are limited; however, we will schedule more throughout the summer as interest and time allows.

  • Online
    • Lion Training Basics (20min)
    • Introduction to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (20min)
    • Volunteer Software Basics (5-10min)
    • Volunteer Expectations (15-20min)
  • In-Person
    • Onsite orientation (1hr) – Meet other volunteers, and HVZ Staff, learn how to safely put on and take off the Henry costume, practice inside the costume
  • Optional
    • Train/Carousel – (Must be at least 18+) – Basic ride operation, safety protocols and guest training
    • Goat Yard – (Must be at least 10-13 w/ parent/guardian, or 14+) – Learn to open & close, operate and educate at the goat yard
    • Empathy/Interpretation – (Must be at least 10-13 w/ parent/guardian, or 14+) – ZOOM – Learn basic docent skills & practice empathy language. This training in particular will NOT allow you to pick up Wildlife Champion shifts. However, it will provide you with valuable interpretation and empathy-building skills that are useful in a variety of roles.
    • Gate Greeter – (Must be at least 10-13 w/ parent/guardian, or 14+) – Take a small tour of the Zoo going over important buildings, entries and guest protocol.

Weather Policy

Henry does not come out in weather that is warmer than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. He also does not go out in precipitation of any kind or onto muddy/puddle-covered terrain. In the event of inclement weather, we will call volunteers to cancel. Volunteers will have an excused absence for the day.