They’re Here, They’re There; They’re Our Animal Ambassadors!
The Virginia Zoo is committed to engaging our community in taking action to save the world’s wildlife and their ecosystems. One of the key ways we accomplish that mission is through our Animal Ambassador Team. These keepers work with and care for our animal ambassadors, animals that have a very special job here at the Zoo.
These animals are the ones you’ll see up close in a variety of educational opportunities and programs both around the Zoo and off zoo grounds, allowing opportunities for guests and program participants to develop a personal connection with these animals and learn about them in a more intimate setting.
Assistant Curator of Animal Ambassadors, Tara Baumgardner, strives to have a wide variety of animals in the ambassador program – omnivores, carnivores, animals from different continents and habitats, and animals that could be found locally in Virginia. By letting guests interact with our animal ambassadors in a different way than they can with animals on exhibit, Baumgardner describes that it helps educate on the importance of protecting the species and help debunk any misconceptions or stereotypes people may hold against certain animals.
“It’s really rewarding when we can see that little spark in their eyes and know that they learned something or that we made a connection for them to care,” Baumgardner said.
You may see our animal ambassadors and keepers doing pop-up encounters around the Zoo, assisting with Educator Chats at the ZooLive! Stage or creating memorable, educational moments at birthday parties and private events. Our animal ambassadors also have a special reach beyond the Zoo – some can be taken to schools or individuals that otherwise wouldn’t be able to visit the Zoo to learn about them.
Wondering what kinds of animals are in our Ambassador Program at the Virginia Zoo? Our keepers care for animals as big as our Burmese python, Cleo, and as small as our tenrec, Quilly Wonka, and many species in between! Some traits that make animals good candidates for an ambassador program include strong trainability, previous experience as an animal ambassador, and calm disposition.
Looking for a way to meet these animals and their keepers? The Virginia Zoo’s behind-the-scenes tours have expanded to now include our animal ambassadors! These tours are a chance for guests to have in-depth discussions on conserving wild spaces for these animals. A portion of the proceeds of these tours goes directly towards the Zoo’s conservation efforts in addition to providing support for the animal ambassadors and their keepers.
These tours are available at the link below and can even be scheduled the day of your visit to the Zoo! Book your Animal Ambassador Behind-The-Scenes Tour by clicking here.
Additionally, be sure to check out the educator and keeper chats we have going on the day of your next visit, listed on a sign at the Zoo entrance. You never know when an animal ambassador will make a special appearance in one of our education programs!