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Volunteer Appreciation Week

Posted by Tany Holzworth, Learning and Innovation

Woodland Park Zoo volunteers are at the heart of our mission to save wildlife and inspire everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives. These animal lovers make local impacts with global waves! Our volunteers use their unique skills to ignite hope and action for conservation in our community. During National Volunteer Week, April 19-25, we want to thank all of our volunteers for sharing their passion and talent with our zoo community. To our volunteers, we appreciate you, we value you, and we miss you. 

Though we can’t possibly illustrate the scope of diversity and richness of our volunteer community in a single blog post, we've asked a few of our volunteers to share highlights of their experiences at Woodland Park Zoo and why they choose to volunteer with us. To celebrate National Volunteer Week, we hope these stories make it clear just how vital volunteers are to our mission. Let's applaud our volunteers for making Woodland Park Zoo an oasis for the community and a beacon for conservation!

Jana and Daphne

Jana and Daphne began volunteering at the zoo as teens, drawn by a passion for protecting wildlife, conservation, and creating change. They didn’t know each other before volunteering, but as they became friends through their volunteer positions at the zoo, they discovered that they happened to  attend the same school. Jana and Daphne have now been volunteering together for 3 years.

Jana and Daphne, photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

According to Daphne, her interest in becoming a zoo volunteer started early, “I think a love and appreciation for our environment was instilled in me at a young age, and Woodland Park Zoo had always been a big part of my life. In first grade, I painted watercolor tigers and sold them until I had raised enough money to adopt a tiger through the zoo's ZooParent program. As a six year old, I took it literally, and believed one of Woodland Park Zoo's tigers now belonged to me. I've since learned that my mom called the zoo and told them about my situation. Keepers and administrators played along and set up a time where I was taken by a keeper to see tiger cub Hadia, who I was told was 'my tiger'. As a volunteer, I now recognize this gesture as an integral part of the zoo's commitment to building avenues of empathy."

As Daphne embarks on her next big journey, attending university, she carries the zoo’s mission with her. Daphne is on a path to contribute to wildlife conservation, and we couldn’t be more proud to see her carrying the torch of conservation action, modeling the way for others to make a big difference for wildlife.

We asked Jana what motivated her to volunteer, “I wanted to gain a lot of knowledge about animals. Even though I saw them often, I wanted to learn more about how they live their lives. I also hoped that I would learn a lot about how to save animals. It was really sad to look at the displays next to each exhibit and see ‘endangered’ or ‘vulnerable’ by so many of them.”  Now, Jana knows and implements all the conservation actions recommended by our signs. She is also a wealth of information for guests who come as curious as she is about our residents and what they can do to help save species.

Daphne and Jana both agreed that they got what they signed up for and more in their volunteer experience.  “I didn’t know how close of a community the zoo was before volunteering” said Jana. “I thought that everyone did their job, and then went on with their lives. But, soon after I started, I found myself reaching out to my fellow volunteers, even after our shifts were over. I have gained life-long friendships, specifically with one of my friends, Daphne. Since we go to the same school, we’ve become even better friends, and it was all because of the zoo.”

Daphne echoes this sentiment, “The most important thing I have gained from my time volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo is the community, a place and a group of incredibly ambitious and dedicated individuals with whom I can fully be myself. Since meeting Jana two summers ago at the zoo, she has become one of my closest friends. I love exploring the zoo and the world with her, and through our extensive conversations about literally everything, I know that we will always support each other.”

Andy and Sue

In 2020, Andy and Sue became partners working with the orangutan team. They help animal keepers prepare meals and enrichment for our orangutans as well as help clean (there is always plenty to clean). This ensures Godek, Melati, Heran, and Belawan are happy and healthy. Andy joined the Volunteer Program in 2019 and in this short time has already accumulated 139 hours; Sue is a long-time volunteer and has served over 6,000 hours. That’s equivalent to almost 3 years of full-time work!

Andy and Sue during food prep. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Sue began volunteering with plans to become a docent and work with school programs, but said shortly after she began “I discovered all the many other things that I could do as a volunteer. I now spend my time at the zoo doing a whole variety of things including working as an animal unit volunteer with orangutans and in the Family Farm, working in the Contact Area connecting children to animals, being on grounds with a docent cart and teaching guests about animals and conservation, writing for the volunteer newsletter, and being on the Docent Training Committee. I even got to participate in Yola's birth watch and again when Uzumma gave birth. I expected to enjoy working with animals and children, but I get so much more from my experience. I have made wonderful friends with other volunteers and zoo staff. I traveled to Kenya twice with a group of zoo friends. I've even rebuilt bone (I have osteoporosis) by doing heavy work in the farm. My life is so enriched by the zoo.”

For Andy, getting involved at the zoo is an aspect of being well-rounded. “I am a big believer of work-life balance and doing something good for your community. By volunteering at the zoo, I am able to force myself to leave my home and work and do good for the community. In addition, it forces me to go out and embrace nature.”

Their work as a team in the orangutan unit is still new, but Andy is grateful to have Sue as a partner, “Working with Sue is amazing because she is able to teach me all sorts of things about the orangutan unit." For her part, Sue says “I loved watching his face the first time he got to see the orangutans up close.” This duo looks forward to getting to know one-another and their orangutan counterparts better through their service.


Kauvel is a new volunteer and has been supporting Zoomazium on Sensory Friendly Fridays. He ensures our young guests with autism and other sensory sensitivities have a great time exploring nature activities with their peers. He said, “I wanted to volunteer at the zoo because I like kids and zoo animals very much!”

Kauvel at Zoomazium, photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
“So when I was a little kid I didn’t like the touch of things, so I like to help kids with things that make them happy and excited,” says Kauvel. Kauvel has autism, and can relate to some of the sensory challenges that children with disabilities can experience. Making those sensory experiences fun can be a huge developmental step for children on the spectrum, and can open them up to activities and skills that might otherwise be hard for them to achieve. He thinks it is really important that kids with autism have the opportunity to see that they can grow up to volunteer at the zoo and help people. When kids engage with Kauvel in Zoomazium, he is a role model for those future conservationists (and a really creative play-mate).


“My absolute favorite thing is sharing my knowledge with others - teaching people how to best grow orchids for their particular environment and getting the plants back into bloom. I've been fascinated with orchids since I was 12 and, thankfully, I am still learning about them,” says Joff, one of our horticulture unit volunteers. 

Joff tending to the orchids in the Greenhouse. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
Joff joined the Volunteer Program looking to care for our orchids, but he also supports events at the zoo, roves as an ambassador and mentors new volunteers. He’s been able to make his mark by improving humidity systems in the Greenhouse to keep our tropical plants happy and healthy, and providing delicious snacks for our Matchie’s tree kangaroos. (Did you know tree kangaroos love orchids?). We asked Joff for one thing he has gained from his volunteer experience, and were surprised to learn his new addiction – carnivorous plants! “I am quite taken with them, their traps, coloring, habits, cultural differences. They also make good orchid companions as many grow under similar conditions.”

Happy National Volunteer Week!

We've highlighted just a few folks from our amazing volunteer team, but each and every one of our volunteers have unique skills, passions, goals and personalities that make them incredibly valuable to our zoo community. Building a world where everyone can coexist with and protect wildlife is not a job for one type of person. It has to be built by all. Our volunteers embody this mindset by doing conservation in their own ways, every day, but together, they will save species.

Right now, the zoo is closed to help keep physical distancing up with #StayHomeStayHealthy, and that means our volunteers are staying home too. To celebrate National Volunteer Week, we'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment here or on our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter about your own volunteer experience, whether you are a current, past or future zoo volunteer! Do you know or work with a zoo volunteer? Give them a shout outwe would give them all a high five if we could.

High-paw from Carson!


SallyB said…
Thank you for sharing the photo of Carson; always a sweetheart.
Mariette Broncheau said…
Love these stories! Can't wait for the zoo to re-open so we can visit again. It is one of my favorite places in the Greater Seattle area. Sincerely, Future WPZ Volunteer!
Anonymous said…
Love to see how people with such different personalities come together behind such a great cause. Thanks for sharing!