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Volunteer FAQs


Where do I start?

  • If you prefer reading: Read through our volunteer role descriptions here.
  • If you prefer face-to-face: You can sign up for a Volunteer Information Meeting (VIM) here. We’ll put you on our email list and send you the Zoom link for the meeting. Hosted by our volunteer support staff, VIMs take about 45min to an hour, and go over all the different roles and information you need to decide if volunteering with us is right for you.
  • If you prefer phone: Give us a call! We’re happy to talk with you one-on-one. #608-283-1612

What kinds of benefits do HVZ volunteers get?

  • Volunteer shirt & nametag
  • Weekly volunteer update emails
  • Online & in-person trainings ranging from basic volunteer duties to animal welfare and conservation action
  • Lunch & Learn and local fieldtrip opportunities with HVZ volunteers and staff
  • Full access to San Diego Zoo’s Wildlife Alliance course library
  • Discounts at our Glacier Grille, Cup & Cone, and Gift Shoppe
  • Early sign-up for event volunteer opportunities
  • Earn a Zoo membership that can be kept or gifted to a friend

How do I apply?

Go to our Volunteer Roles page. Click on the role that you’re interested in. The application (when available) is located at the bottom of the page beneath the role description. The application will reveal itself as you complete it.

Can I complete my community service hours with you?
  • Unfortunately, we do not currently have the capacity to support those volunteers seeking completing court-ordered community service hours.
  • We recommend checking opportunities listed under Court Mandated Volunteering on the United Way’s Volunteer Your Time website.

What can I expect once I submit my application?

  • We will confirm your schedule and role you’ve chosen, and/or give you a call in the event you haven’t yet attended an information session or have discrepancies on your application. We are human people on this end with kids and families, so we thank you for being patient while we balance school schedules with volunteer applications!

Can I apply for more than one role?

  • If you’re applying for an ongoing role: yes and no. You can sign up for one role to start. This will be your base role that you’ll be responsible for regarding attendance. You can then sign up for trainings for any other role (either upon applying or throughout the season). Once you’re trained in on something, you’ll be able to pick up shifts for that new role whenever you’d like – with no minimum attendance requirements for that role.
  • If you are applying for an event, then you are welcome to do as many events as you’d like!

What is your dress code?

  • All volunteers receive a blue HVZ volunteer shirt and nametag during training/their first day. Volunteers should wear these at all times during their shifts along with any other weather-appropriate clothing.
  • All volunteers must also wear close-toed shoes. Why? Working with animals or not, toes are some of the easiest things to protect.
  • The Henry Vilas Zoo does not discriminate against body art – with the exception of body art that contains imagery or words of a profane or inappropriate nature. If you have concerns about your specific tattoos, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
  • Piercings and alternate hair colors are amazing.

My schedule is weird because of [insert reason]. Can I still volunteer?

  • We use an online scheduling system that all ongoing volunteers can access during their time with us – making it easy to cancel and reschedule shifts as needed.
  • For longer periods of time, email us or give us a call! We’ve finangled everything from college and high school schedules to military leave to cruise ship nurses. If you’re here the majority of the season, then we may be able to work around each other’s schedules.

Where do you need the most help?

  • Where we need the most help is where we have the most people – the Train/Carousel!
  • A helpful hint: many people take a quick glance and think this is just like running a ride at any amusement part. But our train/carousel is the heartbeat of our Children’s Zoo. Being a part of the experience that leaves so many kids and adults beaming is truly special. It’s a unique role with support from a group of other volunteers as well as several HVZ staff, and requires real enthusiasm for the community.


What animals do volunteers work with?
  • HVZ Ambassador Animal Docents work with those animals specifically chosen by our Curator and Education Team for temperament and ease of handling/transportation. This includes many non-venomous reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and some small mammals.
  • Volunteers do not work with dangerous animals in any way. Even our keepers do not engage in direct contact with our dangerous animals.
Can I work with animals?

Yes! We currently have two roles that work in close proximity with our animals: Goat Yard Attendant and/or Animal Ambassador Docent.

Can I work behind the scenes caring for animals?

We do not currently offer behind-the-scenes work. Volunteers looking to interact more with our keepers can take advantage of our Lunch & Learn opportunities throughout the year (posted on our weekly email updates). These hour-long sessions with HVZ staff often include animal care staff and are an excellent way to learn more about zoos, animals and conservation.

Can I work with your capybaras?
  • We know. They’re super cute. No.

For Parents/Guardians

Can I volunteer with my child/minor?
  • Yes! Parents/Guardians can volunteer with their child age 10-14 in the following roles:
    • Events* (*Depending on the role/event)
    • Gate Greeters
    • Goat Yard Attendants
    • Wildlife Champions
  • Teens ages 14-17 can volunteer on their own in many roles; but we’re still happy to have parents/guardian and teen teams who would like to volunteer together.

My child is going to be 10 this summer. Can they volunteer with me?
  • If your child turns 10 by the end of June, then yes, that’s close enough.

My child is a very responsible [age under 10]. Can they still volunteer?
  • We’re so excited that your kiddo is excited! However, your child must be 10 by the end of June the season they’d like to volunteer.
  • However, we do sometimes have one-time options for younger kids. We suggest getting on the Volunteer Email List here so you can be on the up-and-up in case something becomes available.

What will I be doing while my child volunteers?
  • You’ll be volunteering with them! All parents/guardians are trained in along with their minor just as any other volunteer would. You’ll be expected to take an active part in any role you choose.

Can I switch off with another parent/guardian?
  • Yes. We understand that it can be difficult to schedule volunteering into school, work, hobbies, etc. Your minor can come each week with you and another adult switching off every other week. The other adult will be trained in like any other volunteer just as normal.
  • We will treat you as a small group, and will count your attendance together (rather than by person).

Can I volunteer on my own, without my child sometimes?
  • Yes! You can volunteer in any role for which you’ve received training on your own time.

For Kids, Teens and College Students

Can I volunteer even though I’m under 10?
  • If your birthday falls on or before June 30th of the year you’re wanting to volunteer, then yes, you can volunteer.
  • If your birthday is after June 30th, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. But, every now and again an opportunity opens up for one-time event volunteering for kids and their adults. The best things you can do is get on our email list here. That’s the first place we’ll post anything. Plus, while you’re waiting you can check out the other animal and conservation news each week!

Is this where I start if I want to be a zookeeper?
  • Volunteering is an excellent place to start for any career! While we don’t provide a pathway to a keeper job, and while this is not a required starting point for all keeper positions, it will help you practice skills that would be important in any animal care professional role, like:
    • Listening
    • Public speaking
    • Problem solving
    • Interpretation* (Not like languages. Interpreting animal behavior for guests)
    • Empathy-building
    • Organization
    • Responsibility
  • Volunteering with us also gets you access to several online learning tools that will help you learn more about animals, conservation and zoos.

Can you help me fill school-required volunteer hours?
  • Yes. Check with your school counselor first. Know that, on our end, we are used to filling out confirmations of hours for many a school requirement. However, we do not fill confirmations of hours for filling volunteer hours at the last-minute.

Are there other young volunteers at HVZ?
  • Yes! In 2023 we had 83 volunteers between the ages of 10 and 23. They participated in everything from Gate Greeting and Henry the Lion Handling to Run Guiding and Face Painting. You will not be the only one.

How can I start if my summer schedule is still up in the air?
  • We have several volunteer roles that lend themselves well to changing schedules. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-while thing, you should check out Event Volunteering. If you’re ready for a regular schedule, but one you can adjust as needed, you should check out Wildlife Champion.

Do you have internships available?

Do I have to wear the lion costume?
  • Did you sign up to wear the lion costume? If not, then no. But if you ever change your mind, let us know. We’ll train you in.

For the Differently Abled and Neurodivergent

How physically accessible is volunteering at HVZ?
  • Each role has its own benefits and limitations. Take a look at the “Volunteering for All” sections of the position descriptions. It will give you a better idea of what to expect and help you and your client judge if it’s right for you.
  • Please contact us with any questions at all. We are at the beginning of our journey of making volunteering more accessible, and really value the feedback we get from our community.

I can’t stand for long periods of time. Can I sit?
  • Most roles can be done from a sitting position. Take a look at the requirements and skills listed for each role to see what best fits you.

How do you support your neurodivergent volunteers?
  • Support. As a volunteer, you are part of our team. We will work with you to find the role that fits you, your interests and abilities.
  • Flexibility. We have a variety of roles, and encourage you to find one that fits your interests and schedule. We can also modify shift lengths, role duties and locations.
  • Communication & Choice. There are multiple ways for volunteers to get the information they need – through in-person conversation, online resources, or, on occasion, field trips. 🙂
  • Visual & Auditory Wayfinding. Our online volunteer trainings are heavy on photos, video and audio. Our onboarding process is very straightforward and is designed to easily guide you through the process of applying, training and starting.
  • Quiet Zones. We have several areas throughout the Zoo that are excellent for those who need less busy spaces. Our Volunteer Central is specifically for our volunteers, and gives them a place to relax before, after and during their shift.

How can I make sure I have an amazing volunteer experience?
  • Attend a Volunteer Information Session (sign up here), learn more and ask questions.
  • Share what information you feel comfortable with via your application. Let us know what tools you need in order to make volunteering fun and meaningful for you.
  • Communicate. Our Volunteer Support staff do an excellent job of making themselves available as often as possible for all volunteers. Take advantage of it!

What are your expectations for the role job coaches/respite workers?
  • At HVZ we fully support job coaches and respite workers who volunteer together as a team. The support staff will be expected to:
    • Complete any trainings along with their client
    • Be present with their volunteer most of the time
    • Provide partial support by allowing their client to complete easy tasks on their own, assisting with any challenging tasks, and stepping in when necessary.
    • Be in communication with the Volunteer Coordinator regarding expectations, goals, successes and, as they arise, challenges.

I am a paid support staff. Can I sign my client up to work independently?
  • Any support staff signing up for/with their clients should expect to volunteer alongside them for the duration of their season and/or until such time as the volunteer has shown that they can operate on their own with no interventions.
  • Anyone may sign up to volunteer individually, but must be prepared to be held accountable to the same expectations and standards as any other volunteer operating independently.