Becoming a Zookeeper

Tiger at ZooBecoming a zookeeper could be a very interesting career if you like wild animals or species other than domestic pets.  This is a job that involves taking care of a specific type of animal within a zoo or wild animal sanctuary, although you may get moved around to different species as needed.

Zoos are important to the survival of wild animals.  It is here that much is learned about what they need to survive – food, habitat, interaction, health, reproduction, etc. Your job as a zookeeper would involve being very attentive to the animals and keeping data on their daily habits, health and so on, reporting any unusual activity or health issues.  As in working with any animals on a daily basis, you will get to know the animals you care for and will notice anything unusual that should be reported.

Zookeepers are not usually allowed direct access to the animals they are caring for, except in certain situations or with certain types of animals.  Your job would mostly involve a lot of very dirty hard work cleaning up the living areas, including cleaning up animal waste, cleaning the viewing windows, feeding and watering, cleaning up straw or other bedding and you will at times be working outside in all kinds of weather.  It’s a smelly job, so you have to be willing to deal with strange smells that you may have never encountered before.  Just imagine the smell and the size of elephant dung!  And you might be the one cleaning it up.

Get Experience Before Becoming a Zookeeper

If you think you’d like to become a zookeeper, it’s important that you get some kind of job early on working with animals.  This can be while you’re still in school, working at a veterinary clinic as a kennel cleaner on weekends or after school, or volunteering at a local animal shelter.  You could possibly get a job working in a pet store or at a riding stable as a stall cleaner or groom.  Any experience working with animals will be an advantage to being accepted working in a zoo.  You might also want to simply volunteer at a zoo or wild animal sanctuary if there is one in or near your home town.  Then, as a position opens up, you will be more apt to be chosen for a paid position.  This would probably start out as minimum wage and if it is a salary based pay, you might not get paid for working overtime if something comes up where you are needed to work late.  That’s just something to keep in mind.

Education For Becoming a Zookeeper

Becoming a zookeeper does not necessarily involve a lot of schooling, although it could be an advantage.  What most positions require is some experience working with animals and working in physical jobs such as farm jobs, so they will know that you are capable of handling the strenuous daily chores and have some knowledge of how to behave around and respect animals.  Getting a job on any type of farm will definitely give you experience with hard physical labor, since that is what keeps a farm going.  With this experience under your belt, you will possibly have an advantage when applying for a zookeeper position over the person who has a degree in animal behavior yet has never actually worked with animals.

Working With the Public

Another aspect of zoo keeping is working with the public.  You might be asked to give tours and will certainly be asked several questions about the animals on a daily basis.  Even though you may be asked the same questions several times a day, you must remain courteous and patient.  This is an important aspect in making the zoo experience a pleasant one for the visitor.  If not for the visitors, there would be no money to maintain the zoo.  Your goal is to make their visit an exciting one so they will return and will tell others about the fun day they had at the zoo.  So even though you may get frustrated answering the same question all day, one thing you could try to do is come up with different ways to answer the same question or pretend that each time the question is asked, it is the first time you have heard it that day and you are more than happy to explain what it is they are curious about.

If you are thinking of becoming a zookeeper, just remember that along with the excitement of working with exotic wild animals, you will need to be able to do hard physical labor, endure getting dirty and smelly, and you must be able to interact with people as well as animals.  The pay may not be great, so this is not a job to pursue if you want to get rich.  This is for someone who just loves animals and wants to work with them.  If you can see yourself in this role, than by all means, go for it!  Once you experience working with different species of animals you may want to consider furthering your education and becoming a zoologist.


Penguins at a zoo