Volunteer at Brookfield Zoo!

Volunteer at Brookfield Zoo

Thank you for your interest in serving the Chicago Zoological Society at Brookfield Zoo as a volunteer. Recruitment for the 2015 season has ended. Feel free to submit your application on-line. for our 2016 Waiting List. Thank you for your support of Brookfield Zoo!

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Caring! It's our nature!

Become a community conservation leader at Brookfield Zoo!
All our volunteers are passionate about Brookfield Zoo and its animals and join us for one main reason: to create extraordinary experiences for our guests! If you enjoy talking with people about animals, nature, and conservation, and you enjoy being outdoors, we have a volunteer program tailor-made just for you!

Guest Guide Volunteers
  • Guest Guide volunteers are friendly, customer-service oriented, outgoing people who enjoy being outdoors. They staff our information kiosks and are stationed in guest relations areas around the zoo’s 216 acres.
  • Guest Guides welcome and orient guests to Brookfield Zoo and all its attractions, make recommendations for more satisfying visits, and answer guests' customer service questions.
  • This is a perfect volunteer opportunity for people who love to talk to people, yet are not quite ready, or interested, in taking on the research and study involved in our Docent Training Program.
  • Guest Guides walkabout the zoo grounds from early March through late October, and during Holiday Magic in December.
  • All training for the Guest Guide volunteer position is on-site with an experienced Guest Guide mentor.

Please note: This is an outdoors volunteer position. Guest Guides do not interpret animals and are not stationed in or at animal exhibits. Concurrent service in both the Docent and Guest Guide Programs is not available. If you are interested in interpreting animals, please consider becoming a Docent and apply for the 2015 Fall Docent Training Program.

Docent Program (Volunteer Educators)

What is a Docent?
The word "Docent" is derived from the Latin word docere which means "to teach." In the United States, the word is frequently used to identify trained volunteer educators in zoos, national parks, and museums.

Two different Docent experiences are available at Brookfield Zoo:

Early Childhood Docents

Early Childhood Docents

  • Early Childhood Docents are playful, fun-loving people who assist staff in the award-winning Hamill Family Play Zoo with early childhood play facilitation focused on animals and nature.
  • Through nature- and animal-related activities such as costume play, crafts, storytelling, and animal interpretation, Early Childhood Docents provide young children, from birth to aged 10, and their families, meaningful ways of connecting with animals and nature by having fun.
  • Early Childhood Docents volunteer daily inside the Play Zoo and on its outdoor grounds year-round.
  • Training for Early Childhood Docents is on-site in the Hamill Family Play Zoo with staff and experienced Early Childhood Docent mentors.


  • The Chicago Zoological Society’s Docent Program was founded in 1977.
  • Literally thousands of animal and conservation enthusiasts over the past 38 years have donated their time and talent to the Society as a Docent.
  • In 2001 and 2010, our Docents proudly hosted the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents & Volunteers (AZADV) National Conferences which brought hundreds of Docents from zoos and aquariums across the country together to share educational strategies and build relationships with like-minded stewards of animals and nature.
  • At Brookfield Zoo, Docents engage guests in conservation education by interpreting animals, natural history, and conservation messages in exhibits throughout our entire zoo. These informative and informal conversations inspire our guests to celebrate animals and nature. (Please note: Docents do not lead formal group tours or teach classes.)
  • Docents volunteer in indoor animal exhibits year-round, with additional assignments outdoors in the summer months.
  • The 2015 Docent Training Program will be held on eight consecutive Saturday mornings: October 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, and November 7, 14, & 21; all sessions are from 9 a.m. - Noon. DocentTrainees are expected to attend all eight training sessions. 
  • After the Training Program, Docent Trainees are partnered with experienced Docent Mentors to complete the on-site portion of the training process.

Administrative office work, animal observations, special events, or behind-the-scenes volunteer opportunities are not available.

Teen Volunteers

For information on the King Conservation Science Scholars Program, including volunteer opportunities for teens age 13 to 17, click HERE.


Is Our Volunteer Program The Right Choice For You?
Are You?
  • Passionate about educating people of all ages and backgrounds about animals, nature, and conservation;
  • Friendly, outgoing, and dependable;
  • Committed to providing our guests the highest standards of customer service;
  • Able to attend required one-day Volunteer Orientation/Hospitality Training Program;
  • Able to contribute a minimum of 4-8 service hours each month;
  • Willing to complete on-site training with experienced volunteers/staff and/or additional workshops, as required;
  • A current zoo member or able to purchase a zoo membership plan at a 50% discount upon becoming a volunteer (Should this financial commitment cause economic hardship for you, the membership requirement can be waived.)
  • At least 18 years old.
  • We are most happy to accommodate persons who use wheelchairs, ECVs, etc. Persons who need to sit frequently are most welcome to bring small personal sitting stools/chairs with them to their assignments.

Teen Volunteers
For information on the King Conservation Science Scholars Program, including volunteer opportunities for teens age 13 to 17, click HERE.

Volunteer Recognition
In recognition of service to the Society, volunteers receive:
  • The satisfaction of making a meaningful impact of service to one of the world’s leading conservation centers;
  • Chances to cultivate new relationships with others who are also passionate about animals and nature;
  • Networking opportunities to connect with new professional contacts;
  • Opportunities to serve on innovative project and planning teams;
  • A fun experience every time you volunteer at the zoo;
  • Continuing education workshops, self-directed training, and meetings designed to enhance your skills and knowledge that will benefit you both professionally and personally;
  • 20% discount at zoo restaurants and gift shops;
  • 10% discount on catered events such as Breakfast with Santa, Nights in the Wild, etc., and private events such as weddings, birthday parties;
  • Free refills on soft drinks and coffee when you use your volunteer mug or your own reusable cup, 16 oz or less;
  • Free passes to give to family, friends, and coworkers (20 passes per year);
  • Free uniform shirt;
  • Free Annual Earned Membership based on number of service hours you contribute;
  • Free Annual Appreciation Dinner – bring one guest at no extra charge!;
  • Service Award pins;
  • Free subscriptions to the Society’s quarterly magazine for members, Gateways, and other Society publications;
  • Members discount for Society lectures, classes, and other events;
  • Exclusive invitations to preview new exhibits before the general public;
  • Access to the Society’s on-site library, including on-line circulation access;
  • Tax deductions as allowed by law (for details, contact the IRS for publication “526-Charitable Contributions”).


Working with Animals
Our volunteers do not handle animals and are not involved in animal husbandry. If you are interested in gaining hands-on experience working with animals for your career development, and are currently enrolled in a university degree program, consider our 12-week Internship Program. If interested, please visit the College Experiential Learning Opportunities (CELO) webpage or send an e-mail to interns@czs.org.

Ready to sign up?
Sign up today by clicking the Volunteer Online Application Form below. After a personal interview, successful completion of a background check, and participation in a required one-day Volunteer Orientation/Hospitality Training Program, selected volunteer applicants will begin their service and complete on-site training with experienced volunteers and staff.

Volunteer Online Application

QUESTIONS? Please contact us at volunteers@czs.org.

Thank you for your interest in becoming a community conservation leader for the Chicago Zoological Society!


About Brookfield Zoo

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