Beyond Measure

Celebrating the Invaluable Impact of Our Volunteers

People are the heartbeat of everything we do. All across San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, nearly 2,000 community volunteers breathe enthusiasm, commitment, and passion into our mission. They’re diverse in skills and backgrounds, putting their unique expertise into action for wildlife, people, and the ecosystems we all share.  We’re honored to celebrate their remarkable impact with a recently achieved milestone: three million recorded volunteer hours for our organization. That’s the equivalent of over 342 years! As they generously give their time, these dedicated volunteers make an essential difference for our work in San Diego and across the globe, and we are so grateful for all they make possible.

For over 5.5 million guests who join us at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park each year, volunteers are among the first friendly faces they see. They can easily be spotted throughout our conservation parks in their signature red shirts, and they are never far away. Each volunteer is quick to share a smile and a helping hand, answer questions, and provide insights on the wildlife we care for as well as our conservation efforts worldwide. With every connection they make, they’re transforming visitors of all ages into allies for wildlife.

Volunteers are found around every corner at the Zoo and Safari Park. Just look for that signature red shirt!

If you were to look behind the scenes, volunteers are everywhere there, too, supporting conservation science, wildlife health and care, special events, human resources, and so much more. They work closely with our teams to create engaging experiences for the wildlife we care for, assist with field research, and tell our stories—all of which helps us achieve our mission.

United by purpose and fueled by passion, our amazing community of volunteers is helping us achieve our mission.

The impact made by our volunteers is beyond measure, and we’re deeply grateful to have them as members of our family. In honor of National Volunteer Week, we connected with a few of these superheroes to discover their inspiration for joining, what they love about volunteering, and their top insider tips to make your visits to the Zoo and Safari Park even more fun and memorable.  

What’s Your “Why”?

No two roads to volunteering are the same, yet each journey converges here with a shared sense of purpose. Our volunteers are inspired to join us for a variety of reasons, including encouragement from family and friends, interactions with other volunteers, and their profound love of wildlife. Many have visited the Zoo and Safari Park throughout their lives, and volunteering helps them further connect with the parks and mission they hold dear. All are seeking a meaningful and tangible way to make a difference.

“One of my neighbors, a fellow volunteer of 10 years, would talk about her wonderful experiences with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. I had never imagined all those opportunities she described as being part of a volunteer program. She inspired me to submit my application.” —Gail Lew, volunteer, San Diego Zoo

For Yoli Banda, who’s been volunteering with the San Diego Zoo since 2009, joining as a volunteer was the gratifying next step for a long-standing routine. “I used to walk the Zoo after work for many years,” she shared. “I would see volunteers out and about since I was there two or three times a week. I thought it would be fun to become a volunteer when I retired.”

“Volunteering started with my interest in conservation. I hoped being a volunteer would be a way to be part of something positive. As I have gotten to know the organization, I have come to love so many things about San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.” —Danette Ondi, volunteer, Safari Park and Beckman Center for Conservation Research

Others are inspired to join as a way to get involved in conservation. “I am an engineer by profession, but I have always been interested in wildlife conservation,” noted Shankar Shivappa, a second-year volunteer with the Conservation Science team. “Volunteering for conservation organizations is a great way for me to contribute my time and energy.”

Shankar volunteers with our Conservation Science team, helping monitor and set trail cameras to document native biodiversity. “My 10-year-old daughter helps me sort the videos on the camera cards when I service the cameras every month,” he shared. “It is a rewarding experience, to say the least!”

Throughout our organization, volunteers leave their mark, securing the future for wildlife through their dedication and expertise.

Perks of the Job

Each day as a volunteer brings new discoveries and memorable moments, and there are lots of reasons volunteers come back week after week and year after year. Of all the fulfilling parts of volunteering, some standout favorites are our vibrant community, the endless learning opportunities, and the chance to give back.

For Zoo volunteer Craig Sanders, there’s so much to love. “The staff and the volunteers are always bright, cheerful, happy-go-lucky,” he commented. “And each encounter with a guest is fun, exciting, and cool. It’s a great time engaging our guests.”

Radiating enthusiasm and bursting with knowledge, our volunteers are excited to tell you about wildlife and conservation! 

The learning opportunities that come with sharing our conservation message are another favorite for him. To Craig, “the insight that has been shared by the volunteer leadership team, wildlife care specialists, and peer volunteers has been extremely informative, valuable, and overwhelming in a positive way because of the wealth of knowledge and the caring generosity.”

Pam Wells, a volunteer at the Safari Park and Beckman Center for Conservation Research, feels similarly. “My favorite part about volunteering is the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people, learn about our conservation efforts, and share stories with our guests.” Using their expertise, volunteers act as key conduits of knowledge and inspire countless allies to protect wildlife.

“My favorite part about volunteering is working with an exceptional group of people!” —Robert Krenz, volunteer, Conservation Science

It’s not just the guests volunteers love interacting with, it’s each other. Zoo volunteer Mary Falwell says the best part is “the chance to meet and work with wonderful people while supporting a great organization.” This was echoed over and over by other volunteers. “Exceptional,” “amazing,” and “extremely nice” are a few of the adjectives they used to describe those they work alongside. Our team members feel the same way about the incredible volunteers who help them out!

Words of Wisdom

With thorough knowledge of the ins and outs at the Zoo and Safari Park, volunteers are on-grounds experts. They know our parks better than just about anyone and are ready to point you in the right direction. Their recommendations can help you get the most out of your experience, and they’ve got some tips to get you started.  

Volunteers are on-grounds experts. They’re ready to answer questions, help shape your adventure, and share insights on the wildlife we care for and our conservation efforts worldwide.

Headed to the Zoo? Volunteers suggest taking advantage of the resources offered. “For first-time guests, I always tell them they can take the bus tour to get a good layout of the Zoo,” Yvette Lopez suggests. Plus it’s a great way to learn about our mission and the wildlife we care for. “I also recommend downloading the app,” Laurie Fuller adds. “Especially to families with kids who’re going to get hungry. Having access to the menus from each dining establishment can aid guests in planning their day.”

Ask these friendly faces about wildlife on your next visit to the Zoo and Safari Park.

At the Safari Park, Conservation Science volunteer Denise Davis advises guests to slow down and take a few minutes to soak it all in. “Make sure you spend time sitting, watching the wildlife, and enjoying your surroundings,” she shared. There’s magic in those quieter moments, and you’ll be in awe of how much you can observe.

Another sincere piece of wisdom came from Kathy Wollman, who’d been visiting the Zoo and Safari Park for decades before becoming a volunteer six years ago. She encourages visitors to purchase memberships. “This is the best place in the world to be with your family,” she commented, speaking from experience after many years of bringing her own family here.

“I always recommend seeing the snow leopards, which happen to be my favorite. I can suggest a route so the guests can see everything they want with very little backtracking.” —Caryl Tennelle, volunteer, San Diego Zoo

As unparalleled sources for insider intel, the latest on new babies, and routes tailored just for you, our volunteers can help make your adventure unforgettable. Be sure to say hello and tap into their expertise on your next visits to the Zoo and Safari Park!

A Heartfelt Thank You

Our volunteers bring us closer to our vision of a world where all life thrives. “Conservation starts with people, and volunteers help us connect with people from all over the world to inspire a passion for wildlife,” said Shawn Dixon, chief operating officer for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “We’re so honored to be supported by so many members of our community. They help make up the heart and soul of our organization, and we are grateful to have such incredible allies as a part of our Alliance.”

To our extraordinary volunteers, thank you for all that you give, and for over three million hours served. As a vital bridge between people and wildlife, your impact reaches far beyond our conservation parks. You inspire us, and allies worldwide, every single day with your commitment. It’s our honor to walk alongside you on this conservation journey.

If you’re passionate about wildlife and are eager to make a difference, consider joining us as a volunteer today. Rewarding and fulfilling experiences await!