Learning volunteers

Thank you for your interest in volunteering with ZSL.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is part of the Zoological Society of London, an international scientific, conservation and education charity whose mission is the conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL also runs ZSL London Zoo; in addition, the Society employs over 70 scientists to carry out research in conservation science and manages conservation programmes in 80 countries world-wide, including Britain.

ZSL receives no government funding to run the two zoos and income is generated almost entirely through visitors to Whipsnade and London Zoo. Over 1.5 million people visit the zoos each year and it is our aim to give them a unique and memorable experience.

Volunteers play a very important role in the life of the ZSL.  They do not take the place of paid staff, but they contribute to the success of ZSL by assisting staff, helping the visitors enjoy their day and providing excellent customer service. 


Role description


Learning Volunteers help ensure that visitors have a great day out at the Zoo.  They contribute to the visitor experience by providing live interpretation, i.e. pro-actively engaging with visitors, interpreting the animal exhibits and facilitating learning on touch tables.  They also provide a friendly welcome, someone who can answer their questions and give directions and great customer service. Following basic training, learning volunteers are able to carry out all the core activities on a roster basis throughout the day, usually changing hourly or so.  Some activities require more experience and additional training.


Core activities:   Live interpretation

  • Exhibit interpretation

Volunteers are asked to spend time at key animal exhibits to chat to visitors, help them see the animals and answer a range of questions.  This asks volunteers to be confident and pro-active in approaching visitors and engaging them in conversation. This activity also includes monitoring the lemur walk through exhibit. There is no direct contact with the animals and volunteers are also asked to ensure visitors don’t touch them either. 


  • Assisting Presenters

Helping Presenters at the various, talks, feeds and workshops which they present

  • Touch tables

The touch tables display a range of biofacts for handling and discovery including items such as skins, skulls and even poo! Again, the emphasis is on facilitating learning in an informal and enjoyable way.

  • Invertebrate care and handling

This is optional and more suited for certain individuals with experience or confidence in looking after invertebrates. The role involves providing fresh branches and water for the animals as well as occasional handling of the cockroaches and stick insects. Training will be provided to those participating.

  • Badge-making and craft activities

This involves spending time in the activity room, helping children make badges and get involved in other art activities.

  • Main gate

This involves answering a range of visitor queries, providing maps and recommending routes and events. This activity requires a greater experience of the Zoo.

NB.  You will notice that there is little direct contact with live animals, although they are all around you; this is an important point which should help to avoid any misconceptions about this volunteer role.


We ask for a regular and reliable attendance ideally of one regular full day (10-5) per fortnight if volunteering on Saturday or Sunday. Please ask yourself, before applying, whether this would suit you.


Who are we looking for?

  • Friendly, outgoing people who are articulate, confident, and at ease with approaching visitors.
  • People who understand what great customer service entails and deliver it consistently.
  • Reliability
  • Enthusiasm and an interest in animals and conservation
  • A willingness to learn, follow instructions and keep informed
  • A good degree of fitness as you will need to walk across the Zoo from one exhibit to another.  Activities are mostly standing up and, while a good part of the day is out of doors in all weathers.


What do volunteers get out of it?

  • An opportunity to be involved in an international conservation charity
  • A chance to be in a team of friendly, like-minded people - other volunteers
  • Training and an opportunity to learn new skills
  • Travel expenses will be covered for volunteers travelling to and from the zoo on their duty or training day. Receipts must be provided.
  • Support from a team leader, Volunteer Co-ordinator and Live Interpretation Team Leader.
  • A range of benefits including discounted lunch and shop purchases.
  • Complimentary tickets (after one season’s regular attendance)


How to apply for this volunteer opportunity

  1. Please complete the application form and return it as soon as possible to the Volunteer Co-ordinator, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Whipsnade, Dunstable, LU6 2LF, either by post or as an email attachment to whipsnade.volunteering@zsl.org.

Volunteer & volunteer intern application form (57.77 KB)

  1. Volunteers must be over 18.  There is no upper age limit as long as you continue to be fit and active, able and willing to learn and remember new information and adapt to change as the Zoo develops.
  2. Due to the importance of recruiting people with the right skills, not everyone will be short-listed. Those who are short listed will be invited for an informal discussion and successful applicants undergo a period of induction.
  3. We are fortunate to receive many applications for the role. We aim to process applications to short-list stage within 4 weeks of the closing date. If you do not hear from us within this time, we regret you have not been short listed.
  4. Training is done by placing new volunteers with experienced ones, by providing a handbook of information, morning briefings and orientation activities.
  5. This opportunity applies to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. Priority will be given to applicants living within the area - public transport is very limited


Closing date for applications is : 18th August 2014

Likely dates for interviews are 31st August and 1st September 2014

Start date will be mid-September 2014

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