How to Become a Zookeeper

Do you enjoy spending time with animals? Does your interest also run to exotic species, animal science, and husbandry? If so, then becoming a zookeeper may be right for you. The daily life of a zookeeper is always different, amazing, and challenging. A zookeeper’s duties span a wide range, from giving the best care possible to animals to educating visitors and maintaining habitats. Maintenance and the survival of various and sometimes endangered species are critical to the role of a zookeeper.

Years of study aren’t necessary to become a zookeeper. In fact, in as few as 31 weeks, you can earn your qualification. With a relevant Zoology diploma, you can secure a job in this highly competitive field and use it as a step toward a future in animal medicine.

What do zookeepers do exactly?

A zookeeper’s responsibilities go well beyond the care of animals. Their duties cover a wide array of animal and park needs, including:

  • Cleaning and maintaining animal habitats and enclosures
  • Providing educational meetings and tours with school groups, local organisations, and park guests
  • Supporting the zoo or park’s conservation and breeding programs
  • Observing animal activity and identifying and reporting and health or behavioural concerns through detailed records
  • Feeding animals according to their individual dietary needs
  • Attending and participating in daily meetings held by a manager or curator
  • Checking park or zoo security measures
  • Work alongside veterinary staff
  • Conducting animal training sessions
  • Engaging in play and enrichment with animals
  • Furthering professional development and education by attending conferences

No day is the same for a zookeeper, and they typically alternate between these responsibilities throughout each shift. These duties may change according to the area of the park to which a zookeeper is assigned.

What qualifications do you need to be a zookeeper?

Entry into a career as a zookeeper requires a relevant qualification, such as a degree in Zoology that covers important aspects of this career such as biology, science, psychology, and animal welfare and behaviour. An initial diploma can lead to further educational endeavours such as postgraduate courses and degrees in animal conservation and zoo biology, areas that are highly competitive in this field.

Experience with animals is also highly desired. Apprenticeships or volunteer work at a wildlife rehabilitation organisation or a local animal shelter are not essential to enrol in a degree program but are helpful modes of experience. Some zoos offer volunteer keeper opportunities for potential zookeepers to receive experience in the field.

After completing a diploma in Zoology, your next step includes enrolling in higher levels of certification, such as a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management, a Level 3 Diploma in Animal Science or Animal Care, or a Biology A level.

Individuals with presentation and public speaking experience may also have an advantage in the zoology field. Often, zookeepers present educational shows to guests or groups, and they may conduct personal tours of the park. Possessing the skills to share animal experiences and education with visitors helps conservation causes and may inspire some visitors to become future zookeepers.

There are limited numbers of zookeeping jobs available at any point; as such, vacancies in this field lead to heavy competition. Any educational and practical experience you have will make you a more attractive candidate for open zookeeping positions.

Who would be suited to the job?

Not just anyone can work with wild, captive animals. Zookeepers need particular character traits and personal skills to care for animals successfully, such as:

Attention to detail

Every zoo animal requires specific care, especially their diet, habitat, and exercise. Zookeepers must know what animals belong in what areas, what they consume, and why. This information is critical if an animal behaves oddly or becomes ill. A zookeeper needs to remember minute details about each animal, what it eats, how much it eats, what medications, and what dosages an animal requires. Attention to detail is a skill critical to the welfare of the animals. 

Written and verbal communication skills

As with attention to detail, having strong verbal and written skills is a must for a zookeeper. Oral skills are needed for when zookeepers interact with other zoo staff members or the general public. Often, zookeepers are the first people guests speak with, so professional verbal skills and speaking abilities are needed to make a positive impact on visitors.

Carefully kept written records are needed daily to care for the animals. Writing skills are vital so zookeepers can take clear and accurate notes and write complete reports about the animals in their care.

Strong work ethic

Zookeepers’ daily work is often exhausting yet valuable. Whether interacting with zoo staff and guests, feeding animals, or hauling equipment around the park, a zookeeper needs a strong work ethic to succeed in this field. This work typically involves hours on your feet, hard physical labour, dirty and muddy animal enclosures, and work in all varieties of weather. A dedicated and hard-working individual is the type to excel in this career.

How much do zookeepers get paid?

Entry-level zookeepers can expect to earn a salary of £10,000 – £15,000 a year. Experienced zookeepers with some years of experience may make between £16,000 – £20,000 yearly. Senior zookeepers, generally those who have eight or more years of experience, can earn upward of £25,000 per year. Salaries are often dependent upon experience.

Care for and protect animals with a career as a zookeeper

Combine your love for animals with your strong work ethic and consider a career where you can protect animal species. Enrol in ICI UK’s executive diploma Zoology course and begin making a difference in animals’ lives today.

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Gladys Mae

Gladys is the Associate Director of Admissions & Student Services with over 10 years of experience at the International Career Institute.