Volunteering at ZSL London Zoo

Around the world, dedicated volunteers make important conservation and charity work possible. 1-7 June was National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration and call to action, so I went to experience a day in the life of a Learning Volunteer at ZSL London Zoo.

The Zoological Society of London is an international charity involved in conservation, education and scientific research. It aims to promote conservation of both animals and their habitat, and their zoos – ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo – are much more than tourist attractions. ZSL receives no government funding for the zoos, so their teams of volunteers are vital for their successful running, engaging with the 1.5 million visitors who come through the gates each year.


Some of ZSL London Zoo’s residents: a golden lion tamarin and a glasswing


ZSL London Zoo has around 350 volunteers, 230 of them working as Learning Volunteers. Learning volunteers are on hand around the zoo to answer questions, share facts, point out animals and educate visitors. They run interactive activities and ‘touch tables’ where the public can get close to animal artefacts, many of them confiscated from smugglers hoping to sell them illegally. As well as helping visitors to have fun, Learning Volunteers inform visitors about the plights of the animals and the work being done to help them.

The snake skins at the zoo are used to explain how snakes move, and to start a conversation about illegal wildlife trade


Last year, Learning Volunteers – ranging from students to retired animal-lovers and coming from a huge range of backgrounds – gave a total of 30,570 hours. The longest-serving volunteer at London Zoo has given their time for 30 years, and four volunteers were being recognised for 10 years of service the day after my visit.


It was a horrible, rainy day when I visited London Zoo, but luckily there are plenty of heated indoor exhibits. I spent time with volunteers at the Amphibian and Reptile House, Butterfly Paradise and Rainforest Life, observing how they all work to enhance the experience of visitors and draw their attention to important issues.

In Butterfly Paradise, Learning Volunteers help visitors spot all of the species enjoying the tropical plants


Everyone I met was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and lovely. With beautiful butterflies flitting past and inquisitive tamarins climbing overhead, it’s not hard to see why people choose to spend their free time here. These volunteers really care about the animals at the zoo, and by sharing their passion they engage visitors with both the animals themselves and the work ZSL is going to protect them.

There’s no glass between people and animals in Rainforest Life, so volunteers can talk about the creatures as they come up to inspect visitors


There’s more information on ZSL’s website: zsl.org/membership/volunteering. If you’re not near to London, there are lots of other wildlife projects in need of support and volunteers; go to do-it.org to find nearby opportunities in the UK.

If you want to see more about my trip to London Zoo, keep an eye out for the next issue of World of Animals!