Have you always wanted to work with wild animals? Have you dreamed of working in a zoo or sanctuary? If you have, then a career as an animal caregiver or zookeeper may be right up your alley.
Gone are the days that the zookeeper was a glorified pooper-scooper. Today, the zookeepers job is about 75% cleaning, food preparation and feeding. In addition, a zookeeper must maintain copious records on each animal he cares for. These records include observations of behavior as well as changes in diet and the health of the animal. The zookeeper must many times be adept at exhibit design, construction and maintenance. If that isn’t enough, they must be well versed on conservation and wildlife education and is often asked to assist with veterinary procedures. The zookeeper wears many hats.
The profession is now so popular that there are many more people applying for far fewer jobs than ever before. So, if you are serious about being a caregiver or zookeeper you will need to make yourself marketable. The best way to do this is to obtain an Associate or a Bachelors degree in zoology, biology, animal science or animal management. At the same time it is important that you have a resume that includes practical experience such as volunteering for an animal sanctuary or shelter, working in a veterinary clinic, or attending an intern program offered by a zoo or sanctuary.
Education is important, however no school program or book will teach you everything you will need to become a good zookeeper. Anyone can attend school or spend years researching animals and how to care for them but that in and of itself will not teach you everything you need to know. It is very difficult to learn how to observe the animals. Some aspects of the zookeeper or caregiver position are instinct and no one can teach it to you. We have seen people with a thorough understanding of ethology who had great difficulty understanding basic canine behaviors.
You will also need to be flexible. The job of a zookeeper is rarely a 9 to 5. The hours can be long and in some cases you will work weekends while your family and friends are off having fun. Because animals must be cared for 24/7 your job may includes holidays as well.
You will have to be in excellent physical health to be first in line for a position. The tasks often require heavy lifting and back breaking physical labor. A zookeepers job is physically demanding. There are inherent risks involved with working with wildlife as well. You should be aware of the risk of sustaining injuries or zoonotic disease.
Many who go into the zookeeping field have chosen it as a career due to their love for animals. Yet the caregiver or zookeeper must be equally adept at communicating with the public as it is with a grizzly bear. In today’s field a zookeeper must have excellent communicative skills and cooperate in a team atmosphere.
Above all, you should show a professional attitude, a commitment to the animals in your care and to the institution. You should show dedication and a willingness to complete any task. You must have a strong work ethic and show pride in your accomplishments.
If you still have a dream of being a zookeeper or animal caregiver ask yourself one question. Why do you want to be a keeper? Then spend some more time researching the field.