The Association of Zoos and Aquariums contends it “takes a special kind of dedication to provide care to captive animals…24 hours a day, seven days a week, come snow, rain or shine.” While the day-to-day care is provided by zookeepers, the responsibility for the care falls squarely on the shoulders of the zoo director. Zoo directors are responsible to all zoo stakeholders, including members of the public who take pride in the quality of their local zoo.
Zoo directors are responsible for the general management and oversight of all zoo activities. They are classified in the category of General and Operations Managers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their general duties include managing daily operations and activities, formulating policies and directing the administration and management of personnel and resources. Zoo directors oversee the budget and all financial activities, coordinate planning and management activities with management personnel and revise procedures and objectives when necessary.
Zoo directors earn six figure salaries in part because of the demands of the job. They are required to work the regular and overtime hours necessary to ensure the successful operation of every area of the zoo. To do this, they need an inner strength and determination to succeed. For their other duties, they need organization, creativity and administrative skills. As leader, they must visualize possibilities while keeping tabs on the day-to-day details. Communication, negotiation and public speaking skills aid them in their role as the public face of the organization.
The national average salary for zoo directors is $100,000 according to Salary Expert and $126,053 according to CB Salary. The national median wage for general and operations managers is $113,100 according to the BLS. Persons in the lowest 10 percent of the pay scale earn around $47,000 a year. Those in the top 10 percent earn $166,400 or more per year.
Salary by Location
Salaries for zoo directors differ according to zoo policies and location. CB Salary states salaries for zoo directors tend to be higher in metropolitan areas. A zoo director in Manhattan, New York, averages $181,689 a year. The salary drops to $150,552 for zoo directors in Charlotte, North Carolina, and to $145,358 for zoo directors in Dallas, Texas. Zoo directors in Orlando, Florida, earn almost $75,000 less than zoo directors in Manhattan. In Miami, Florida, zoo directors earn approximately $8,000 more than their counterparts in Orlando. Zoo directors in Indianapolis, Indiana; Phoenix, Arizona; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; and Houston, Texas, earn between $122,680 and $138,566 annually. In 2005, John Berry was hired as the director of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. at a salary of $195,000 a year.