Docent Council

Want to share your love of animals with the public? Interested in advocating the importance of conservation? Itching to inform visitors about the wonders of the animal world? Become a volunteer docent at the Philadelphia Zoo!

Candidates who are accepted into the docent training program attend a series of 20 classes, which cover a wide variety of topics including:

  • Philadelphia Zoo history
  • Animal kingdom information
  • Zoo animals specifics
  • Sculpture and horticulture in the Zoo
  • Important conservation issues

Provisional docents also receive instruction and hands-on experience needed to work with the public, including touring and teaching techniques, how to use educational artifacts and biofacts, and many other important skills.

Classes are taught by a combination of Zoo staff and keepers, docents and occasional outside speakers. Each provisional is assigned a mentor to guide him or her through the learning experience. Upon completion of the 3-part docent training course, class members are fully qualified docents, ready to share information with Philadelphia Zoo visitors.
To become a docent you must be an adult Zoo member, successfully complete the docent training course, have good communication skills and commit to 90 weekday hours or 60 weekend hours per year.
Applications for the docent training program are welcome on an ongoing basis for classes that begin in the fall. The next class will be held on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. beginning in the fall of 2013. Applications are being accepted for the next training class.

Email or call 215-243-5200 for more information.

Click here to apply to the 2013 Training Class.

Download a printable docent program overview in PDF Format.
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More about the Docent Council

The Philadelphia Zoo Docent Council, founded in 1972, is one of the oldest and, with approximately 200 members, one of the largest docent organizations in the Philadelphia area. Our docents are a diverse group of men and women who, working with the Zoo's education department, share their enthusiasm for animals, wildlife and conservation with Zoo visitors and the community.

"Docent" is a word derived from the Latin docere, which means "teacher." Today it refers to volunteer teachers. Each docent completes a training program that includes conservation, biology, Zoo history, animal behavior, adaptations, habitats and more. They also learn specific information about the animals in the Philadelphia Zoo and the Zoo's art, architecture and horticulture. Teaching techniques are included in the docent curriculum as well, since not all docents have teaching backgrounds.

Docents participate in a variety of programs within and outside the Zoo. In the Zoo, they give guided tours, ranging from general tours to special tours on adaptations, endangered species, habitats, Zoo horticulture, art and architecture. Docents also staff Just Ask carts and mobile stations located throughout the Zoo where docents use artifacts and biofacts to engage the public in conversation, answer questions and serve as interpreters of the animal kingdom.

Docents also contribute to offsite outreach efforts through audio-visual presentations and education programs such as Earth Savers. The Ask an Expert program gives inquisitive youngsters and adults visiting the Zoo online an opportunity to have animal-related questions answered.

To advance Docent Council communications, docents publish a quarterly newsletter, Docent Data, which contains news about Zoo programs and exhibits, book reviews and in-depth articles about animals and conservation.