The Virginia Zoo’s Conservation Youth Team (CYT) program is a high school volunteer and youth development program that was created for teens who want to learn more about animals and conservation, earn community service hours, and spend their time at the Virginia Zoo! The summer kicks off with an exciting, jam-packed training that focuses on learning the zoo, conservation basics, ecology, and education techniques. Throughout the year, CYT participants educate zoo guests about our animals, support our Safari Camp programs, visit local organizations and participate in service projects benefiting the community, and become part of the Virginia Zoo family! As a member of the Conservation Youth Team, teens will develop important job and life skills, build self-confidence, earn community service hours, and learn about what they can do to help our environment!

Program Overview

  • Three semesters will be available for CYTs: Summer (June-August), Fall (September-December), and Spring (February-May). Summer will be more intensive due to the nature of the program, but all semesters will provide a comparable number of volunteer service hours.
  • Summer will be required for all first-year CYTs. Either fall or spring will also be required.
  • After their first full year, teens may choose any two of the three semesters to participate. Summer (except for the mandatory training) is no longer required for returning teens.
  • Mandatory training will occur three times per year at the start of each semester.
    • Trainings will consist of volunteer skills training, professional development, scientific inquiry, teambuilding, zoo updates, and an off-site Conservation Event trip.
    • Summer training will consist of two weeks; the first week is required only for new CYTs. The second week is required for all CYTs. We will take the day off for the July 4th holiday should it fall on a weekday.
    • Fall and Spring training will consist of one weekend in September and one in February.

What opportunities are available?

CYT offers two “tracks” to first-year applicants: Guide Track and Camp Track:

Guide Track

CYT participants in this track hone their education and public speaking skills while providing enriching guest experiences. Guide Track CYT participants will become familiar with Zoo stories and animals while encouraging and sharing their passion for conservation with Zoo guests! Applicants to this track should have an interest in educating and communicating animal and conservation information with visitors of all ages and backgrounds.

Camp Track

CYT participants in this track will mentor campers and assist our Camp instructors with our Summer Safari Camp Programs. Camp Track CYT participants will learn how to lead games and manage groups while assisting in activities such as learning labs, zoo tours, behind-the-scenes experiences, and animal encounters! Applicants should have an interest in mentoring younger students and gaining teaching experience.

More opportunities become available to teens who are in good standing and continue in the CYT program for multiple years, including peer mentoring, community science, animal observations, and animal handling/husbandry!

What Are the Requirements?

Teen applicants should:

  • Be in high school, including incoming ninth graders, and aged 13-17
  • Demonstrate an eagerness to learn and to work with people of all ages and backgrounds
  • Be available to attend all important program dates listed
  • Be willing to volunteer for eight-hour days (8:30 am – 4:00 pm) as assigned (approximately 150 hours for the summer)
  • Follow the COVID-19 vaccination policy

Important Program Dates

Applications Open: December 1

On-site info sessions: December 16 & January 10. For more details, please fill out this interest form.

Offsite info session: February 7 (Mary D Pretlow Anchor Branch Library AND Virginia Zoo). For more details, please fill out this interest form.

Applications Close: March 8

Interviews: March 23 & 24 (make-up opportunities on the March 25th in the evening)

Selections made: April 8

Paperwork Due: April 29

Parent Orientation: June 2 & 5

Training Week One: June 17-21 (June 19 off)

Training Week Two: June 24-28

First Day of Summer Volunteering: July 1

What is the Timeline?

To be considered for the Virginia Zoo’s Conservation Youth Team program, please complete the application by March 8th. Invitations to interview will then be sent to selected applicants. If invited, you will need to be available to attend one interview session in late March. Final decisions will be made in April.


If you are selected to participate in the Conservation Youth Team, there is a required $100 registration fee. This amount covers your Zoo uniform shirts, name tag, and additional program materials.


The Virginia Zoo offers a scholarship for a few first-year applicants to the Conservation Youth Team. The scholarship will cover the registration fee of $100. Applicants must fill out the scholarship questions on the CYT application to be considered.


If you have any questions, please email [email protected].


To be considered, all application materials must be submitted by March 8, 2024.