By Gladys Mae
Gladys is the Associate Director of Admissions & Student Services with over 10 years of experience at the International Career Institute.
If you have a love of animals, you might have been thinking about becoming a zookeeper. Zookeepers play multiple roles in caring for animals; they’re the parent, doctor, teacher, dietician, and fitness instructor, and they’re responsible for ensuring zoo animals are healthy and happy. Zookeepers perform a variety of tasks throughout the day, and these can vary depending on the area of the zoo or type of animals they interact with. Let’s take a look at a typical day in the life of a zookeeper.
Every zoo is different, but many zookeepers will start their day with a morning team meeting led by a section curator or manager. The meeting will cover any news, updates, developments or issues; for example, if an animal is pregnant or an exhibit area is to be updated. The vets might attend the meeting and provide updates on medical and health arrangements. Once the meeting ends, the zookeepers will head over to their assigned areas and the day’s work will begin.
Part of the zookeeper’s daily routine will include observing animals to check for any health or behavioural issues. For example, an animal might be refusing food, moving sluggishly, or acting aggressively towards others in the enclosure. These will be noted in a logbook and the zookeeper will report the information to the section curator or speak with the vet, and then a decision can be made about what to do to help the animal.
Next on the daily list might be cleaning and maintenance for the animal’s quarters and exhibit areas. Cleaning can include removal of animal waste, any uneaten food, and dirty bedding materials such as hay. The zookeeper might spray down any concrete areas, rake away leaves, and check the enclosures for any dirt that needs to be removed. Other maintenance activities can include taking bedding to be washed, replacing dirty bedding with clean bedding, and pest control. Cleaning is an important maintenance activity for health and sanitation, and it ensures that the exhibits are kept visually appealing for visitors.
The zookeeper will be responsible for food preparation and feeding animals throughout the day, and this may be done multiple times a day and in different ways depending on the species. For some species such as gorillas, it’s important to distribute the food around the enclosure – or even to hide it – to make sure the food is being shared and ensure that the animals are being enriched by the process of browsing for their food, rather than just receiving it. The zookeeper will also be responsible for administering any daily oral medications that animals are getting, perhaps by hiding it in the food.
This is one of the most enjoyable daily tasks for zookeepers – playing and enriching the animals. Engaging the animals in play enhances the physical and mental wellbeing of the animals, and can keep them stimulated and happy. Games of hide and seek using toys and food, water showers, or tossing balls might be some of the things a zookeeper does to keep the animals stimulated. There may be some training sessions involved as well, as the zookeeper strives to manage the behaviour of different animals to ensure they’re easier to manage.
Many zoos will provide special guides and tours for individuals, schools and groups, and the zookeeper might be the one who’s tasked with talking to visitors and taking them around the different exhibits. Guiding visitors gives you a chance to engage with people who are curious about animals, apply and share your knowledge of the different species and individual animals at the zoo, and act as an ambassador for the zoo. You might also have the opportunity to give presentations and conduct question and answer sessions for big groups of visitors.
Since zookeepers work so closely with the animals, they can be a great resource and guide for visitors who want to learn more about each animal.
All zoos have security measures in place to keep visitors safe and the animals secure in their enclosures. Part of your daily routine as a zookeeper might be going around and checking that gates and doorways are correctly secured. You might also be responsible for basic checks on fences and other security barriers to confirm that they’re all in working order. While this is probably a peripheral rather than a core responsibility, it’s nevertheless an important one that zookeepers might be in charge of.
While being a zookeeper is typically a nine-to-five job, working with animals can mean that you’re on call some of the time. Sometimes there might be emergencies that you need to take care of, so as a zookeeper you might find that you’re heading to the zoo to take care of a sick animal at night.
Even after your work day is over you might be doing extra research and learning to stay up to date with the latest zoology and animal-care research and news. You could be doing extra research into different species to enrich your knowledge of the animals under your care, whether this research is about their physiology, biology, emotional natures, behaviour, or other aspects relevant to their care and well-being.
If you’ve decided to become a zookeeper, obtaining the relevant qualifications and training is crucial to enjoying a successful career in your chosen career pathway. The International Career Institute has an Certificate in Zoology that can be completed online in just 31 weeks, and could help you fast track your career as a zookeeper. Contact us today to start on your path to a rewarding career in zookeeping.