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Bathing zoo elephants is fun

By Caylon Thomas/Howard University News Service
On March 23, 2015

The National Zoo has volunteers from the area help
with it’s upkeep, saving millions annually.

WASHINGTON – Angela Thomas is a nurse tending to needy patients, most of her time. Every so often, however, she finds herself surrounded by straw, covered in sweat and shoving elephant poop.

And, the 32-year-old Arlington, Virginia, resident said, she loves it. 

“I can’t explain to you how happy I am to be able to help save the zoo and the city money,” said Thomas.

Thomas is one of approximately 1,500 Washington-area residents who volunteer at the National Zoo, which is part of the Smithsonian Institutions.  Volunteers dedicate 90,000 hours or service each year and save the zoo about $4 million annually.

The zoo offers scores of programs for volunteers, who work with over 300 species of animals.

Joane Little, 54, another volunteer shares the same sentiments as Thomas.

“The National Zoo’s volunteer program taught me so much about animals,” Little, a Washington resident, said, “how to care for them, feed them, bathe them. I love volunteering at the zoo.”

Little said she has been volunteering at the zoo for more than a year has loved animals since she got her first dog at the age of 10.

“I named him Charlie, because Charlie Brown and the peanut gang was one of my favorite cartoons at that time,” she said.

Thomas comes to the zoo every other week to work with the elephants, which are her favorite animals. Her main job is to clean up after the elephants, feed them, bathe them and also give them treats.

She said she doesn’t necessarily enjoy cleaning up after elephants, but it is her duty as a volunteer.

“Whenever I come to the zoo, I know what I’m expected to do and when I have to something that’s kind of different, I’ll do anyway because it’s what I signed up for.”

Volunteers are awarded discounted food, zoo passes, and an opportunity to work with endangered and rare species.

Volunteers at the zoo primary work behind the scenes. They assist office staff, gardeners and animal keepers, collecting behavioral data, painting, building and doing other work.  The minimum age is 18.

To find out about volunteer opportunities, visit

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