Working with animals is a great way to earn a living. If you want to learn how to become a zookeeper, you’ve come to the right place. This can be a very rewarding career for the right animal lover.
As a zookeeper, you will have a very important job. You will care for animals in your zoo and help to educate the public. Before you choose this career, it’s important to understand the job. Let’s look at the common job duties and how to become a zookeeper.
Job Duties of a Zookeeper
The main job duty of any good zookeeper is taking care of the animals. You will help to enhance their quality of life. It’s common for a zookeeper to clean the living spaces, feed the animals, provide medical care, train them, conduct research, and more. Some zookeepers will specialize in a specific type of animal, too.
Some of the common job duties of a zookeeper include:
- Training animals
- Helping animals get the right exercise
- Planning the diets of the animals and feeding them
- Observing the way animals eat and drink
- Raising young animals
- Cleaning the living spaces and bathing the animals
- Providing medications and assisting with veterinary exams
- Reporting any signs of injury or illness, along with unusual behavior
- Educating the public about the animals you care for
Your job duties may vary a bit, depending on the facility you work for and the animals you take care of.
How to Become a Zookeeper in 5 Steps
Step #1 – Work at a Zoo, if Possible
If you live near a zoo, start by volunteering, taking on an internship, or working as an employee at the zoo. If you can work with the animals, this is the best option.
There are some programs specifically for high school and college students, as well. Any type of experience you can get working at a zoo or with animals will be very helpful.
Step #2 – Get Your Degree
If you want to become a zookeeper, you will likely need a bachelor’s degree in life sciences. However, some zoos will hire you if you have an associate’s degree. Studying biology and zoology is necessary for this position.
It’s important to choose the right degree program. Some programs don’t offer all the best courses for zookeepers. Make sure you look at the different options before choosing the college for you.
While it’s possible to become a zookeeper without a college degree, it’s harder. you will still need some type of training. It’s possible to start with courses from the San Diego Zoo Global Academy online in animal care, welfare, conservation, and safety. You can also take courses from the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation or the American Association of Zoo Keepers.
Step #3 – Work in an Entry-Level Position
Even with the right degree, you might need to work in an entry-level position before becoming a zookeeper. Many college students will work at the zoo as animal caretakers or in another capacity as they finish school. If you can get any type of experience, while getting your degree, this can certainly help.
Step #4 – Get Your License
In some states, you may need to get a license to work as a zookeeper. This may require an apprenticeship. If you plan to work in another country, this might be required, as well. Australia and European countries often require an apprenticeship or a license.
Step #5 – Gain Certifications
While you may not need any certifications to become a zookeeper, the right ones can be very helpful. Most zookeepers will need to get basic first aid and CPR certifications. Along with these, you can also become certified in:
- Environmental Education
- Animal Training
- Animal Nutrition
- Husbandry and Lineage
These types of certifications can help you become better qualified to work as a zookeeper. You can also get a SCUBA certification if you plan to work with animals living in the water.
Necessary Skills for Zookeepers
If you want to be a zookeeper, you will need the right training, but you will also need the right skills. Some of the most common skills zookeepers need include:
- Reliability – You have to be a very reliable person to work as a zookeeper. The animals are depending on you to take care of them. They depend on you for water, food, cleaning, and more.
- Patience – Another important skill you will need is patience. Animals don’t always act the same and sometimes they can be unpredictable. Since they cannot just tell you what they need, you have to be patient with them.
- Empathy – It’s important for zookeepers to be rather compassionate people. You will need to treat the animals with kindness and respect.
- Stamina – Zookeepers spend most of the day on their feet, kneeling, and performing physical labor. Stamina is a very important quality to have.
- Communication skills – It’s important to be a good communicator. You will likely need to answer questions from the public, communicate with veterinarians, and communicate with the animals.
- Attention to Detail – It’s important to be very observant if you want to become a zookeeper. Even a small change in the behavior of an animal can tell you quite a bit.
These skills should be developed as you’re training to become a zookeeper.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Zookeeper
How much will I make as a zookeeper?
The salary for a zookeeper isn’t very big. This is the type of career someone takes on because they love animals, not because they want to make a ton of money. According to Indeed.com, the average zookeeper will make about $32,500 per year.
Top employers, such as the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, the Smithsonian Institute, and the U.S. Government will pay a significantly higher salary for zookeepers. You may also earn more based on your location. Washington DC, Honolulu, and Brookfield all pay higher than average salaries for zookeepers.
What type of benefits can I receive as a zookeeper?
You will likely gain access to health insurance, free food, disability insurance, paid time off, and a 401(k). Some employers will even provide Visa sponsorship, tuition reimbursement, and relocation assistance. It’s also possible to get a flexible schedule, as a zookeeper.
Do I need a degree to work as a zookeeper?
A degree will give you the best chance to land a job as a zookeeper. About 78% of zookeepers have a bachelor’s degree with another 6% holding an associate’s degree. Only 16% don’t have a degree at all.
If you want to try to become a zookeeper without getting a degree, the right training is still necessary. An apprenticeship might be an option. You can also take courses in animal nutrition, care, welfare, conservation, and more. Some organizations offer two-year programs for zookeepers, as well.
What will the work environment be like if I become a zookeeper?
As a zookeeper, you will likely work at a zoo, aquarium, or another animal care facility. I will spend time indoors and outdoors. Some danger will be present when working with specific types of animals. It’s also common to become emotionally attached to the animals you care for.
What type of hours does a zookeeper work?
Zookeepers are often full-time employees and they work long hours. You will likely need to be available at all times of the day and the night. As a zookeeper, you will be in charge of providing animals with constant care. Your schedule will likely include nighttime hours, weekend hours, and daytime hours.
It’s common for zookeepers to work overtime. However, it’s also common for you to work with other zookeepers to care for animals. This allows you to work closer to a 40-hour workweek, in some situations.
What are some other careers similar to the zookeeper?
If you become a zookeeper, you can also work towards a more advanced career. Many zookeepers go on to be:
- Environmental consultants
- Park rangers
- Conservation coordinators
- Wildlife biologists
- Hatchery managers
These careers are all similar and offer opportunities for zookeepers looking to advance.
Where can I gain experience working with animals?
If you want to become a zookeeper, gaining experience working with animals is vital. You can find many places to gain experience. Working for a zoo or aquarium is a great start. However, you can also work for a veterinary office, farm, animal shelter, sanctuary, or wildlife rehabilitation center.
If you have a love for animals, becoming a zookeeper might make perfect sense. This career isn’t for everybody. You will take care of the animals at your facility and make sure they have what they need.
The hours might be long and the pay isn’t the best, but you will get to work with animals. For many zookeepers, it’s a dream come true to spend their days caring for unique animals. It’s also common for zookeepers to specialize in a specific type of animal. This can lead to higher pay and a more rewarding career.