Zookeepers are in charge of the care and feeding of wild animals in zoos and animal parks.
They are the eyes and ears, listening and watching for any changes in health and behavior in their charges, and then working with veterinarians to ensure the animals are well cared for. People with zookeeper jobs are also often asked to speak to the public (often children) about their job and what it entails, as well as educate audiences about wild animals. Good public speaking and communication skills are a must have for zookeepers.
Becoming a zookeeper isn’t something you can just up and decide to do one day-it takes years of schooling and research, and really, the earlier you decide that you want to be a zookeeper, the better.
Children interested in becoming zookeepers should possess a passion for animals, conservation and nature. They should like to be outdoors, work and play with animals, and understand the difference between domesticated animals/pets and wild animals. These kids will likely be pestering their parents to take them to the zoo or park all the time. They also most likely watch television channels like Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel, and read field guides on birds and plants.
If your child shows an affinity for animals, now is a great time to introduce them to the challenges of taking care of a pet, as that is the type of practice that will serve them well on the path to becoming a zookeeper.
Most city zoos offer outreach program for kids, where they can visit the behind the scenes of the zoo, and see what it takes to help care for all of the animals therein.
College/university course work should definitely include general biology, zoology, ecology, environmental studies, ethology and animal husbandry. A bachelor’s degree in one of those fields will also help open doors for you and be of great use.
Zoo jobs range from hands-on animal work, to computer programming, to accounting, to gift shop sales, to being a docent – in other words, there are a lot of zoo career options, so be sure your studies are well rounded, with an emphasis on science and math.
If you’re too old to participate in kids’ zoo activities, consider volunteering or gaining employment at your local zoo, or at a veterinary hospital or animal shelter, which will help ensure that working with animals, especially in a hands-on job like zookeeper, is the right choice for you. Most zookeeping jobs require previous work with animals, so be sure to get some experience, even if it’s volunteering at your local zoo, animal shelter or veterinary hospital. Also consider internships and externships.
Zookeeper jobs can be fun and rewarding, but it’s also hard, physical work. Often, zookeepers are tasked with cleaning up after the animals in their care, as well as maintaining a schedule that’s suitable to the animals (because animals in the zoo don’t take vacations, nor do they not eat because it’s raining, hot or cold). Zookeeping can also be dangerous, as it entails working closely with animals that can bite and kick without a moment’s notice.
Zookeeper Salary Information
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of all animal caretakers working in zoos earned more than $10.75 an hour and half earned less.