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. 2017 volunteer opportunities are listed below. Please fill out and submit your volunteer application on-line. 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!

Our Volunteers

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 are friendly, customer-service oriented, outgoing people who enjoy being outdoors and enjoy walking about our beautiful park.  Guest Guides staff our information kiosks and walk about the zoo in assigned 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 walk about the zoo grounds daily from early March through late October, including Summer Nights on Fridays/Saturdays in June, July, and August, and on Holiday Magic evenings on December weekends and nightly December 26-31.
  • All training for the Guest Guide volunteer position is on-site with an experienced Guest Guide mentor.
  • We currently have openings for Guest Guide volunteers on morning shifts (10am-2pm, 9:30am-2pm in summer) and afternoon shifts (1-5pm, 2-6pm in summer) on the following days/shifts:  

Wednesday mornings
Thursday mornings
Friday mornings/afternoons
Saturday mornings/afternoons
Sunday mornings/afternoons. 

  • Please note: This is an outdoors volunteer position that requires walking. 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 becoming a Docent, please apply for the 2017 Fall Docent Training Program Cohort. (see below and click on the additional link)  

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 volunteer opportunities are available at Brookfield Zoo:   

  • Early Childhood Docents
  • Docents

Early Childhood Docents

  • Early Childhood Docents are playful, fun-loving people who assist paid 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 nature crafts, nature play, and storytelling, Early Childhood Docents provide young children and their families/caregivers meaningful ways of connecting with animals and nature by having fun.
  • Early Childhood Docents volunteer year-round inside the Hamill Family Play Zoo and on its outdoor grounds.
  • Training for Early Childhood Docents is on-site in the Hamill Family Play Zoo with paid staff and experienced Early Childhood Docent (volunteer) mentors.  
  • We currently have openings for Early Childhood Docents on morning shifts (10am-2pm) and afternoon shifts (1-5pm) on the following days/shifts:  

Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday afternoons
Friday mornings/afternoons
Saturday mornings/afternoons
Sunday mornings/afternoons


  • The Chicago Zoological Society’s Docent Program was founded in 1977 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2017.
  • Hundreds of animal and conservation enthusiasts over the past 40 years have donated their time and talent to the Society as a Docent.
  • 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.
  • Docents volunteer as interpreters in all of our indoor animal exhibits year-round, with additional assignments outdoors in the warmer months. (Docents do not handle animals and do not lead formal group tours or teach classes.) 
  • Our Docent Program is best suited for people able to volunteer year-round on a consistent weekly/bi-weekly schedule (“Snowbirds” welcome!). The Docent Program is a perfect volunteer opportunity for retirees, but you certainly do NOT have to be retired to be a Docent! The majority of our Docents work full-time. We welcome all ages and types of experience.
  • NEW! The format for our Docent Training Program has transitioned from a classroom-based lecture-style format to an on-line, self-directed format.
  • Our 2017 Docent Training Program Fall Cohort begins Saturday, October 7.
  • There is a $100 course fee for the Docent Training Program. (Should this financial commitment cause economic hardship for you, it can be scaled on your ability to pay.)
  • Due to the challenging requirements of our training program, we do not accept full- or part-time undergraduate or graduate students to our docent training program.
  • For more information about our Docent Training Program, click here.

Administrative office assignments, animal observations, special events, and/or behind-the-scenes volunteer opportunities are currently not available. However, you are welcome to submit an application in the event these types of opportunities become available in the future.

Is Our Volunteer Program Right For You?

Are You?
At least 18 years old;
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 or 4 hours each week for "summer-only"volunteers;
  • 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
  • Able to contribute a $25 materials fee (Note: Should either  financial commitment cause economic hardship for you, it can be waived.)

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 the field of conservation;
  • 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,  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/Volunteer 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”).

We are  most happy to accomodate persons who use wheel-chairs, ECV's etc. Persons who need to sit frequently are most welcome to bring small personal sitting stools/chairs with them to their assignments.

Working Directly 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  Internship Program. If interested, please visit the College Experiential Learning Opportunities (CELO) webpage for more information and a list of open opportunities.

Paid Positions

If you are looking for paid job opportunities, please apply here instead: www.CZS.org/Brookfield-ZOO/Careers/Job-Openings


Apply for our volunteer program today by clicking here: Volunteer Online Application Form. After an in-person interview, successful completion of a background check, and participation in a required one-day Volunteer Orientation/Customer Service 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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