An Animal Lover’s Education – Degrees and Internships

Continuing our interview with Jenny Shively, a zookeeper and bird expert. She has been working with wildlife in a variety of capacities for many years.

I imagine you had to have certain coursework in college. Biology? Zoology? What types of college degree programs should one target?

I obtained a bachelors degree in Biology and focused most of my classes on animal related science classes such as comparative vertebrate anatomy and animal form and function.

Most facilities look for people who have a degree in natural sciences such as biology, environmental science, zoology, marine biology, and even psychology. Most places also either require or prefer a person who has a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree is ok but you will need to have more hands on experience if competing with someone who has a B.A. Now a master’s degree, I am not going to lie, is completely unnecessary if you are planning on working with animals rather than researching animals. Of course, if a person wanted to become a veterinarian the degree requirements are completely different, more intense, and much more competitive.

While in college are there internship programs allowing one to get a taste of the work?

There are tons and tons of internship opportunities for animal related fields, you just have to know where to look. The best way to get into the field of animal care-taking is to gain as much hands-on experience as early as possible. One of the most helpful places to look is on the AZA or Association of Zoos and Aquariums website. They have a large list of job and internship opportunities on their Job Listing section. Also, simply doing a Google search for animal care internships will come up with a lot of options. Unfortunately, most of these internships are unpaid but some do provide housing. Most people are going to have to work at least for several months without pay before they will be able to obtain a paying job. Employers look for people with hands on experience because this is the best way of ensuring that the person knows what they are getting themselves into.

After college graduation what was your first job and how did you get the opportunity?

After college graduation I obtained an animal care internship in Hawaii.

I found the internship by typing in “animal care internship” to Google and going to the facility’s website. During my internship I learned how to deliver public presentations, administer medication, tube feed birds, and perform a variety of other animal care tasks. The internship was five months long and I had a great experience. My first real job is the one that I currently have, bird keeper. I found this job online at the AZA website. I was given the job because I had previous bird experience and knowledge of operant conditioning.

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