How To Become a Zookeeper: Education and Career Requirements
Updated March 10, 2023
Zookeepers play an important role in the care of animals located in zoos and aquariums. They're known for working irregular hours in addition to evaluating specific behaviors of animals, educating the public with notable facts about each animal and keeping records related to their health.
In this article, we explain what a zookeeper does, the skills required to work as one and the steps you need to take to become a zookeeper.
Related: Setting Goals to Improve Your Career
What does a zookeeper do?
A zookeeper cares for animals in multiple ways to enhance their quality of life. Zookeepers make time to clean the living space for animals, feed them daily, train them for certain activities, provide basic medical care and conduct scientific research. Some zookeepers may work with a specialized group of animals like reptiles, birds, mammals or other species.
Here are some of the skills zookeepers need to have to be successful in this role:
Zookeepers must have interpersonal skills to be successful in this role. They consistently communicate with and cooperate with employees to provide the best care for animals located at the zoo. Having interpersonal skills helps you become a leader by taking ownership of projects while showing empathy for animals and coworkers.
Zookeepers can experience obstacles on the job, so they must be proactive in generating solutions by utilizing their problem-solving skills. The education you receive in school and at work can help you understand the level of research, analysis and attention to detail required to solve the complexities of workplace scenarios. Be sure to broaden the types of experiences you have so you can apply what you learned later on.
Customer service skills
Zookeepers work with the public to educate them about each animal that resides in a zoo. Therefore, working with the public requires proficient customer service skills that produce a favorable experience for visitors.
Zookeepers help record and document animals they care for. Records must be logged concerning their behavior, medical information, etc. Thus, zookeepers need to stay current with the latest computer technology to accurately record and keep track of relevant information. They may need to work with different software applications that can serve as a centralized database for the zoo.
Time management skills
These professionals need to be mindful of the amount of time they spend on each task. They should be able to focus on one task at a time, set achievable goals, prioritize tasks based on their importance and delegate tasks to others when necessary. They should also be able to rely on others when they need help completing certain duties within a timeframe.
The average salary for a zookeeper
The average salary for a zookeeper is $14.05 per hour, though salaries range from $7.25 to $34.10 per hour. A zookeeper's wages depend on their education and experience. Those with a higher degree and more experience are likely to make a higher salary. The size, type and location of the facility where they work can affect pay as well.
How to become a zookeeper
Here are the steps you need to take to become a zookeeper:
1. Gain experience early on
A zookeeper is a highly desired profession, so you'll want to get experience before you attend college. You can volunteer or get an internship at a local zoo to get hands-on experience in taking care of different kinds of animals. The type of animals you work with can vary based on where you live and where you plan on getting your education.
Some programs may be geared towards college students, so check in with your local zoo before you apply for an internship or volunteer opportunity. You may need to start with an unpaid internship for college credit before receiving a paid internship. However, volunteering and working internships at the university level puts you in a better position to earn an entry-level position right out of college.
2. Complete a bachelor's or an associate degree
Most zookeepers have a bachelor's degree in life sciences, which includes biology and zoology coursework. Some employers, however, may accept an associate degree with relevant experience. Each program can give you the ability to take specialized classes related to the type of animals you want to work with. The number of available courses depends on the program. Therefore, be sure to know the educational track you want to be on when you enroll in the program. The good news is you can plan on adjusting your track if it aligns with your career path.
3. Compile your resume and apply to entry-level positions
Focus on obtaining skills that can help you determine where you want to specialize. This way, you can highlight the experiences you had and apply them to your resume. Make sure that you tailor your resume to the position you're applying to. This is the best way for you to get an interview with the hiring manager. List your experience in chronological order, especially if you volunteered in high school. Additionally, have a friend or a family member proofread your resume to ensure it's error-free.
4. Attend interviews and receive a job offer
If you get an interview for a zookeeper position, it's best to be over-prepared so you can properly answer the hiring manager's questions. Take a look at a few tips for success during your interview that can increase your chances of receiving an offer:
Bring copies of your resume and take notes.
Arrive early for the interview.
Watch your nonverbal communication, such as posture, gestures and facial expressions.
Focus on your skills and accomplishments.
Avoid negativity about previous experiences.
Be concise in your responses.
Here are some common questions about being a zookeeper:
Are there similar jobs to being a zookeeper?
Zookeepers can also work in different professions that highlight their skill set. Some of these occupations include:
Animal health technician
What skills do I need to be a zookeeper?
Zookeepers need a multifaceted skill set to be successful. Some of these skills include:
Ability to understand animal behavior
How can I get experience working with animals?
Contact places like those below to see if they have open volunteer or internship opportunities. Any experience working with animals can improve your chances of becoming a zookeeper. You can also reach out to employees who work at these facilities for an informational interview so you can understand the day-to-day responsibilities of their full-time careers.
Local animal shelters
Wildlife rehabilitation centers
What are some of the daily responsibilities of a zookeeper?
Zookeepers may work long days involved with feeding and cleaning animals, but they also watch the behavior of animals and train for more natural tendencies. They work daily with veterinarians and other assistants to make sure animals are healthy and getting enough stimulation. Many zookeepers also conduct regular public educational programs for those interested in a particular animal group or species.
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