How to Become a Zookeeper

If you enjoy being around animals and have an interest in animal science and husbandry, a career as a zookeeper may give you the best of both worlds. A day in the life of a zookeeper is always different, challenging, and awe-inspiring. From delivering the best standards in animal care to providing food to the animals to educating visitors, zookeepers have vital roles in the maintenance and survival of various species.

Contrary to public perception, it doesn’t take years of study to become a zookeeper. In as few as 31 weeks, you can complete a relevant Zoology diploma that will help you secure a position in this highly competitive field.

What do zookeepers do exactly?

Zookeepers do much more than care for animals. Their responsibilities cover a wide range, including:

  • Attending daily meetings held by a curator or manager
  • Feeding animals according to their dietary needs
  • Cleaning and maintaining enclosures and habitats
  • Conducting animal training practices
  • Providing tours for guests, school groups, and local organisations
  • Furthering education and professional development by attending conferences
  • Carefully observing animal activity to identify any behavioural or health issues
  • Supporting the zoo’s breeding and conservation programs
  • Engaging in enrichment and play with animals
  • Checking security measures

A zookeeper alternates between these roles throughout each day. These responsibilities may change depending on what animals or areas of the zoo to which they are assigned.

What qualifications do you need to be a zookeeper?

Obtaining relevant qualifications and diplomas are necessary to become a zookeeper. Experience with animals, such as volunteer work at a local RSPCA shelter or wildlife rehabilitation organisation, is desired but not essential to enrol in a Zoology degree program. Some zoological societies offer volunteer keeper programs so you can experience actual, hands-on experience as a zookeeper.

The successful completion of a diploma in Zoology is the first qualification needed for this career field. The next step includes enrolling in additional levels of certification, including Certificate II in Animal Studies and Certificate III in Captive Animals. These professional development opportunities are conducted through registered training organisations like conservation centres.

Additional experience in public speaking and presentations may also be useful for educating zoo guests and visitors. Many zookeepers present educational shows to groups and guests or conduct personal tours of the facility. Having the skills to share animal education and experiences with visitors help contribute to animal conservation and might inspire future zookeepers as well.

Zookeeper positions are limited in nature; therefore, vacancies in this career field are in demand and competitive. Any experience and educational accomplishments you complete will make you a more viable candidate for any open zookeeping jobs.

Who would be suited to the job?

Working with wild captive animals requires a particular set of skills but more importantly, specific personality characteristics. If you recognize these traits in yourself, then being a zookeeper may be your calling:

Patience

A significant portion of a zookeeper’s day revolves around wild animals, which may be unresponsive or overexcited. Animals who are ill and need medication may be reluctant to take it, requiring the zookeeper to work to medicate them patiently. Being collected and calm is vitally important to maintaining safety protocols and care of the animals, especially in potential emergencies.

Also, as zookeepers may be responsible for hosting tours or giving public presentations to visitors, patience is needed for listening and responding to the variety of questions guests ask.

Attention to details

Each animal at a zoo requires specific care in terms of diet, exercise, and habitat. A zookeeper needs to know what animals belong where, what they eat, and why. This knowledge is especially critical when an animal becomes ill or when animal behavioural issues arise. Zookeepers must remember details about each animal, the type of diet it receives, how much food it eats, and what medications, if any, the animals require.

Strong work ethic

A zookeeper’s shift is busy and full of exhausting but valuable work. From working and feeding animals to hauling pails and equipment around the park to interacting with colleagues and guests, zookeepers need to have a strong work ethic from the start of the day to the end. Often this work involves physical labour, muddy and dirty animal habitats, and working in all types of weather; thus, hard-working and dedicated individuals will succeed in this particular field.

Written and verbal communication skills

Daily care for zoo animals requires carefully kept written records. Written skills are important for this job as zookeepers are responsible for taking accurate notes and writing reports on the animals in their care.

Verbal skills are also valued because zookeepers need to interact with other zoo staff as well as members of the public. In many cases, zookeepers are the first people guests speak with, and a professional attitude combined with excellent speaking abilities can make a positive impression on visitors.

How much do zookeepers get paid?

Entry level zookeepers can expect an average salary of $42,355 for the first three years of their career. The median salary for zookeepers with 4 – 7 years experience is $55,793, or $27 AUD per hour.

Senior zookeepers, generally those who have eight or more years of experience, make an average of $67,085 per year.

Conserve and educate with a career as a zookeeper

Combine your strong work ethic and love for animals with a job that allows you to protect species and teach the public about them. Enrol in ICI AU’s distance learning Zoology courses and start making a difference in the lives of animals today.

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