Working at the zoo is a dream job for many, so it can be tough to get your foot in the door unless you have an amazing resume or insider connections. Completing a zoo internship will give you the best chance of securing employment. An internship enhances your experience and gives you the chance to network directly with zoo professionals.
Paid internship opportunities in the zoo industry are far from plentiful, so you should be prepared for that reality. There are a few paid positions (and we’ve done our best to find and list them here), but it is far more common for interns to receive benefits like discounted or free admission passes, free parking, gift shop discounts, uniform apparel, or housing. Many programs also allow students to coordinate college credit for their participation. In some cases, however, zoo internships are purely volunteer opportunities with no tangible benefits other than the experience itself.
Here are some of our favorite zoo internships (in alphabetical order):
The Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) offers a paid 5 month internship for graduate or veterinary students funded by the Schmidlapp Foundation. Interns in this program participate in research studies related to rhinos, small cats, or polar bears. The internship offers up to a $10,000 stipend and interns can take advantage of low cost housing adjacent to zoo.
COLUMBUS ZOO AND AQUARIUM
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (in Ohio) offers 12 to 16 week internships in the Animal Care department. Spring and fall internships require a minimum commitment of 16 hours per week, while summer internships require a commitment of at least 24 hours per week. While the internships are unpaid, interns are eligible for many perks such as discounts on food and retail items, free parking, unlimited free admission for the intern and their guest, free safari transport tours, and more.
Conservator’s Center (in North Carolina) offers exotic animal husbandry internships with several different commitment levels ranging from 3 to 20 weeks. College students may be particularly interested in the 3 week (120 hour) sessions designed for breaks in school schedules where they can focus intensively on one species. All internships are unpaid. Shared rooms are available adjacent to the zoo property for $75/week.
The Denver Zoo (in Colorado) offers both paid and unpaid internships in animal care, behavior, horticulture, and marketing throughout the year. College students and recent college graduates are eligible to apply. Paid interns earn $9.50 per hour but housing is not provided.
DUKE LEMUR CENTER
The Duke Lemur Center (in North Carolina) offers internships in many different areas including field research, husbandry, education, animal enrichment, fundraising, and more. The DLC is home to 223 lemurs plus a handful of bush babies and lorises. Internships require a 10 week commitment and are unpaid; students must provide their own housing and transportation.
FOSSIL RIM WILDLIFE CENTER
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center (in Texas) offers animal care and conservation education internships. Animal care interns can specialize in working with carnivores, black rhinos, birds, or the varied collection kept in the Children’s Animal Center (parrots, tortoises, pot bellied pigs, goats, and an emu). Conservation education interns work with children and park visitors, giving guided driving tours and caring for education program’s animals (snakes, tarantulas, hissing cockroaches, and hedgehogs). Applicants must have completed at least 2 years of undergraduate work in a wildlife, biology, or educational degree program. All interns receive a $300 stipend each month plus free on-site housing.
The Indianapolis Zoo’s internship was recently named one of the top 10 non-profit internship programs in the United States (a ranking conducted by Vault). Internship options include conservation education, bird encounters, marine mammals, carnivores, primates, aquarium, vet hospital care and nutrition, public relations, marketing, and more. Indianapolis Zoo internships are open to college students who have completed at least two years of undergraduate work, as well as recent graduates. Internships run for 12 weeks and are unpaid.
INTERNATIONAL EXOTIC ANIMAL SANCTUARY
The International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (in Texas) offers four to eight internship positions in its animal care department. IEAS was the first sanctuary to be granted certification by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Internships run for 3 to 6 months. Interns learn about animal care, health, feeding, behavior, and more. Compensation includes housing in a four bedroom dormitory, use of facility vehicles, and a stipend. The facility also offers an invitation-only apprenticeship program (lasting 6 to 12 months) for students who express an interest and are selected to participate at the conclusion of their internship.
KENTUCKY REPTILE ZOO
The Kentucky Reptile Zoo (about an hour from Lexington) offers internships working with an extensive collection of reptiles. Interns assist with the care of non-venomous species, give educational presentations, and complete a research study in the field of herpetology. Applicants should be in their final two years of an undergraduate program or a recent graduate with a degree in a biology related field. Compensation includes a stipend of $55 per week for expenses. The well known facility has been featured on National Geographic TV, Animal Planet, and PBS. It boasts that its “graduates” have a 95 percent success rate finding jobs as zoo keepers.
LITTLE ROCK ZOO
The Little Rock Zoo (in Arkansas) offers a variety of summer animal care internships focused on carnivores, hoofstock, birds, great apes, primates, reptiles, penguins, or zoo education. Summer internships require a ten week commitment, and interns will work up to 40 hours per week (including weekends). The program is designed for college students in their final two years of undergraduate coursework or recent graduates with a degree in biology, zoology, or a related field. Internships are unpaid.
The Nashville Zoo offers both animal care and business related zoo internship programs. Animal care internship assignments may include the ambassador animal building, the avian department, the commissary, the aquatics and herpetology department, the mammal department, or the veterinary department. Internships are unpaid but it is possible for students to arrange college credit. The zoo also will provide letters of recommendation for future internships or employment applications.
The National Zoo (in Washington DC) offers a variety of zoo internships focused on areas like the bird house, small mammal house, amphibians, ungulates, and more. They also offer internships centered on research, fundraising, and communications. Internships are unpaid but some offer housing in an on-site dormitory. Students may also arrange for college credit hours with their university.
SAN DIEGO ZOO
The San Diego Zoo offers internship programs in animal care or hospitality/operations. Animal care internships are actually offered at both the Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Opportunities may include mammal care, avian propagation, animal behavior/shows, elephant care, the children’s zoo, and more. Interns also complete assignments and attend classes over the summer. Internships are paid and housing assistance is available.
WHITE OAK CONSERVATION
White Oak Conservation (in Florida) offers internships working with 26 species of wildlife. Animal care interns commonly work with carnivores, birds, and ungulates. Internships are designed for college students and recent graduates and last a minimum of six weeks. All internships are unpaid but housing may be provided (as well as transportation to and from the Jacksonville airport). Students also have access to amenities like the fitness center and swimming pool.
Zoo Atlanta offers a variety of internships for college students or recent graduates. Options recently posted on the website included internships in the following departments: birds, mammals, primates, reptiles, education, animal ambassadors and show birds, development, and marketing. All internships are unpaid. Interns may work up to 40 hours per week but the commitment varies depending on the type of internship the student enrolls in. Spring, summer, and fall internships are available.