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Animal Handling Docent


Animal Handling Docents serve many functions within the Zoo’s Education Department, most notably handling animals and teaching guests on-grounds and in the community. They are committed to educating school children and the general public about our natural world and the need for conservation. They serve many functions within the department, most notably handling Ambassador Animals and teaching guests in presentations. Presentations are done on-grounds or out in the community through the “Critter Connections” and “Zoo to You” and “Meet and Greet” programs.

Role Requirements:

  • Be 18+ by the time of the orientation
  • Commit to at least 1yr of weekly volunteering between the hours of 9AM and 1PM on the same day each week
  • Complete 10hrs of a guest-facing role (Gate Greeting, Train/Carousel, or Goat Yard) and 20hrs of Wildlife Champion
  • Complete a 3hr in-person orientation in the fall or spring

Shift Times

Shifts vary. Position requires regular weekday availability – preferably one weekday each week 9:30-1:30 (can shift from semester to semester with notification to the Education Curator).

Time Commitment

A minimum weekly commitment is required for one year. Must complete training (including animal handling check-off process and attending some presentations) by the end of March and be available one morning each week to participate in public presentations throughout our spring/summer busy season (especially April to mid-June).

Age Requirement

Must be 18 years or older
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  • Present educational programs to Zoo visitors, visiting school groups, and in the community at a variety of events hosted by schools and other community organizations
  • Handle Zoo education animals according to policies and procedures set by the Henry Vilas Zoo Education Department
  • Demonstrate proper animal handling techniques, multitasking abilities, and interpretive skills.
  • Maintain the safety of our education animals, members of the public, yourself and other volunteers
  • Help in other areas as assigned
  • Be a friendly and engaging representative of Henry Vilas Zoo through on- and off-grounds engagements.


  • Friendly and engaging personality
  • Minimum one-year availability
  • Available minimum of one consistent weekday (limited need also for weekend volunteers)
  • Ability to follow animal-handling policies and procedures as set by the Henry Vilas Zoo Education Department. You will receive training and mentoring for this and will need to “test out” to show your abilities
  • Ability to handle animals appropriately (this requires multi-tasking)
  • Ability to confidently present relevant/approved animal information to large groups (up to 100 people) and one-on-one
  • Ability (with training) to maintain the safety of education animals and guests, even if that means potentially disappointing someone
  • Dependability is critical. As the department is self-funded through public programs, we depend on our volunteers to be present and ready. When you are scheduled for a presentation, we are counting on you to be there.


General orientation (2 hours), Animal Handling Docent training (3 hours), assist with scheduled presentations (30-60 minutes each), make arrangements for follow-up mentoring sessions and two additional animal handling check-offs (up to 60 minutes each) before qualified to handle animals and work as part of presentation team.

Animal Handling Docents must complete a review of their animal handling, presentation, and knowledge skills with the Conservation Education Curator annually. They must remain in active status and must regularly volunteer and practice animal handling to maintain skills; a lapse of three months or more requires them to pass an animal handling review with the Conservation Education Curator in order to resume volunteering. Docent and Education Program Assistants skills are monitored and assessed by the Conservation Education Curator, Day Captains, and Mentor Docents throughout the year.


Meet people with similar interests, build Zoo, animal, and volunteer experience on your resume, gain presentation experience, work directly with Zoo education animals, network with the community; help create lasting memories for Zoo guests, volunteer nametag and t-shirt, regular educational volunteer meetings, and recognition events

Reports To

Henry Vilas Zoo Volunteer Department and Henry Vilas Zoo Education Curator