Two of our most faithful volunteers, Joan Klemer and Breezy Kohls, often sell memberships at the Zoo.

By Terry Lincoln, Dakota Zoo Director

Since its inception 50 years ago, the Dakota Zoo has relied heavily on volunteers in virtually all areas of operation. Many early supporters spent countless hours clearing brush and making the 90 acres of Zoo land habitable for the animals to come. Whether it was plumbing projects, fence building, painting, welding or a host of other specialty jobs, volunteers were one of the main driving forces that ultimately made the Zoo a success.

Today more than ever, volunteers continue to play a huge role in helping the Dakota Zoo to continually win the Bismarck Tribune’s “Best of the Best” award in at least one category each year. Volunteers can also take much credit for our Zoo being awarded North Dakota Tourism’s “Best Tourist Attraction” in the state for 2011.

In 2012, the Dakota Zoo will provide over 50 special events for our visiting public. Events such as Junior Zookeeper Day Camps, Breakfast at the Zoo, Children’s Day, Wine-tasting, Zoo Run…to name just a few, all have one common denominator that helps to make them successful. VOLUNTEERS!

In addition to volunteering for special events, the Dakota Zoo enjoys the benefit of having numerous volunteers that continually help out in a variety of ways.

Veterinarians- since the beginning in 1961, the Dakota Zoo has enjoyed donated veterinary services from some very caring individuals. Dr. James Wheeler, who continues in the capacity of Senior Veterinarian, has provided care for our 600+ animals almost since day one. Most recently Dr. Kelly Thorsness has joined the ranks of caring individuals who set aside time each week to help keep the Zoo animals in tip top shape. Other veterinarians from area clinics have also assisted in various capacities and we owe them much.

Docents- since the early 1970’s the Dakota Zoo Docents have played a vital role in helping to educate thousands of visitors of all ages. From helping with camps to visiting nursing homes and classrooms, docents continue to help the Zoo carry out one of its most important missions…education.

Youth- the Zoo has a considerable number of young volunteers, ages 12 – 18. Helping in various ways with things such as face painting, animal presentations, work projects, etc., these young workers make the Zoo a better place and learn some responsibility and organizational skills at the same time.

Office and Clerical- a small but dependable group of volunteers help out with membership sales, clicking in members on very busy days, setting up the gift shop, folding maps, etc. But for them, the Zoo would have to spend more on labor costs.

Board of Directors- to be a member of the Zoo Board it takes more than just saying “yes!” There are more than 20 committees that members of the Board are asked to help with. From Fundraising to Exhibits to various Special Events committees, Zoo Board members are required to be some of our best volunteers.

For all of the above events, tasks and programs we utilize upwards of 200 volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life.

Other Volunteers- just when we think that we have covered all of the bases for how volunteers have helped and continue to help the Dakota Zoo, something like a flood comes along. When we received word in late May that the Zoo should plan for up to 4’ of water in the center of the facility we wondered how we would go about evacuating animals and sandbagging buildings. A Facebook plea, along with some helpful stories by the local media provided over 300 volunteers the next morning for assistance in filling and hauling sandbags. Likewise, offers came from all over for help in hauling animals and providing homes for some of them if necessary.

Volunteers really are what “makes the zoo go around” and we are so thankful for everyone that helps in a variety of ways.