Zoo and Aquarium Worker

Insider Info

Where can you expect to find up to 60 teenagers on Halloween night in Calgary? Try the Calgary Zoo.

Special events volunteers act as witches and goblins. Their duties can include doing visitor surveys and hiding Easter eggs. They're among the 600 volunteers at the zoo.

At the New Jersey State Aquarium, volunteer manager Michelle Mazza has 200 volunteers aged 12 to 80. The aquarium has 90 scuba diver volunteers. Requirements vary depending on the department.

"The most important requirement for volunteers is they must want to learn and have fun," says Mazza.

Zoo and aquarium volunteers can do an amazing amount of different things. Mark Mazzei is the program coordinator at the Columbus Zoo. He looks after their volunteers. All 147 volunteers are students aged 13 to 17.

When a zoo department needs some help, they send a request to a volunteer supervisor. This way, a volunteer is assigned to jobs throughout the zoo.

At the Roger Williams Park Zoo on Rhode Island, volunteer coordinator Anna Linville handles things a little differently. Volunteer applicants first attend a monthly orientation program.

Then she finds out where they are best suited to work and off they go. Of the 200 or so volunteers they have, 50 of them are between the ages of 10 and 18.

The volunteer benefits are many. They make new friends, learn lots and generally just feel good about what they do.

"There are studies to prove that people who volunteer tend to be healthier," says Linville.

The zoo benefits, too, by saving money on staff. Volunteers get more people involved in education, memberships and projects.

"Many of our volunteers have been involved at the zoo for many years and enjoy their time here. Other volunteers gain valuable experience working with exotic wild animals," says Lorrie Toohey. She is the volunteer manager at the Sacramento Zoo.

Volunteers have a variety of options at the Sacramento Zoo:

  • Helping at fund-raising events
  • Working with the animal care staff -- they help by maintaining exhibits, preparing diets and cleaning exhibits
  • Working with the education department doing guided tours of the zoo
  • Helping out in the offices and with general maintenance

Several area high schools are referring students to the zoo as a site to serve their community service hours.

The New Jersey State Aquarium has 200 volunteers. Among them, you'll find Lindsay who has been volunteering since 1997. How did she become involved?

When she was in Grade 8, she was looking for something to do over the summer. Since her birthday was right in the middle of summer, she was either going to be the youngest or oldest in every summer camp she read about. An aquarium newsletter saved her. They were looking for junior volunteers.

"It was perfect for me, and ever since then I've made the 40-minute trip from Malvern, Pennsylvania, to Camden, New Jersey, two or three times every month, and have enjoyed it all along," she says.

She enjoys the quieter times at the aquarium. "When things are slow and there is not a huge crowd of visitors, I can really stop and take time and talk to people. I enjoy being able to really get to know them and interact with them on a more personal level than just direction giving and creature identifying."

Nicole Ramirez volunteers at the Jacksonville Zoo. She's been a volunteer since 1994. She started because she needed her community service hours.

"As the years went by, I enjoyed working with people and animals so much that I just kept right on with it," she says.

"Today, I'm also employed by the zoo's guest services department en route to my ultimate goal of becoming a zoo animal keeper."

How to Get Involved

The first step is to contact a zoo or aquarium in your community. You can do this directly or you can talk to your career or guidance counselor at school.

Remember, many organizations require you (and even your parents) to sign a number of release forms before you can start. Some medical information may be needed, too. Allergies may be a problem for some people.

Aquarium and zoo volunteers should:

  • Be fit (there can be some heavy work)
  • Like to work outdoors
  • Feel comfortable talking with the public
  • Be ready for a varied schedule
  • Love all creatures


Association of Zoos and Aquariums
710-8403 Colesville Rd.
Silver Spring , MD   20910


San Diego Zoo
One of the world's most famous zoos -- check out the live panda cam

New England Aquarium
Take some time and explore the whole thing

Oregon Coast Aquarium
Lots of photos

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Learn more about how aquariums are working to protect the ocean

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center
Great site with links, quizzes, news and more

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