If you love animals and it doesn't bother you to see them in captivity, you might consider becoming a zookeeper. Zookeepers work with animals from all corners of the world, from the tiniest frogs to the largest elephants and everything in between. You won't get rich being a zookeeper, as the median salary is about $28,000 a year. But the joy of working with animals might be reward enough for the right person.
What is a Zookeeper?
Zookeepers work for zoos, overseeing and caring for a wide variety of animals, including land mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and sometimes fishes and marine mammals. As a zookeeper, you will prepare food for the animals under your supervision. Since some animals eat only at night, a zookeeper's work schedule can vary to include nights, weekends and holidays. Other responsibilities might include bathing, watering and exercising the animals, as well as cleaning their cages and other living areas.
As a zookeeper, you will spend most of your time with the animals in your charge. It is up to you to report to your manager any changes, health problems or unusual behaviors you see in your animals. Zookeepers need to know as much as they can about each animal in their care as visitors frequently ask zookeepers about animals. Zookeepers, therefore, need to have a way with people as well as animals.
Requirements to Consider
Although working around animals can be exciting, it requires a strong stomach to endure some aspects of animal biology, include waste and body odors. You must be able to handle the euthanization of older or sick animals, and you must be patient when dealing with species that are different than our own. Physical strength is necessary when dealing with certain creatures. Working with wild animals brings a risk of injury or death, but most zoos take precautions to minimize that risk.
Training and Stimulation
In some zoos, professional zookeepers train the animals to be involved in the daily routine of care and feeding. For example, they might train an elephant to lift its feet so you or a veterinarian can inspect them. Keeping captive animals active and stimulated sometimes involves toys and playful interaction. Although zookeepers have close contact with animals, they generally do not pet them as they would a domesticated animal.
Education and Job Outlook
Most zoos prefer to hire zookeepers who have at least a two-year associate degree in either animal science, wildlife management, zoology or conservation biology. Larger metropolitan zoos might require a bachelor's degree. Zookeepers employed by local or state-operated zoos are required to take a civil service examination. Since the number of zoos in the U.S. is not expected to grow in the immediate future, jobs as zookeepers will be competitive.