Since I was a little girl, I’ve always known I wanted to work with animals. Fluffy or scaly, big or small, I’m in love with them all! I wanted to be as hands-on with the animals as possible, so zookeeping was always my goal. One of the top questions I get from younger guests is how they, too, can become zookeepers, so here is my advice!
Firstly, a reality check—yes, I do get to snuggle with some pretty adorable critters, but that is a minor part of the job. Zookeeping is a lot of hard work, especially in the beginning when you’re just entering the field. Most of your days are spent cleaning. Whether you’re washing dishes, mucking barns, or scrubbing floors, you’ll never run out of things to clean. You will get dirty! Also, animals need care every day. They don’t recognize weekends, Christmas, or your birthday. They still need to be fed when it’s boiling hot, freezing cold, or pouring rain. Be prepared to work nontraditional hours and holidays in all kinds of weather. Additionally, be open to relocating. The zoo field is highly competitive, so being willing to move will improve your chances of getting hired. Finally, realize that zookeeping is not a high-paying career. We do it for our love of the animals, not to get rich. You will have to learn how to save money to live within your means.
Zookeepers aren’t just animal caretakers either. They’ve got to work with people a lot. Whether it’s the veterinarians, other attractions staff, or guests, zookeepers must be good communicators. Public speaking is a critical skill for zoo staff to develop. It’s likely your days will include keeper chats, behind-the-scenes tours, or animal shows. Writing is also important—you will be writing daily reports, keeping diligent records, and communicating with other zoo staff.
While zookeeping is a dream job for many, it’s a very competitive field. Lots of people want to work with exotic animals. My advice is to start building your resume as early as you can! Volunteer or work at your local animal shelter, horse stable, vet clinic, zoo, or aquarium as often as possible. Once you’re in college, apply for internships working with animals. Hands-on experience is what makes you stand out in this field. The zoo world is also very small, so receiving positive letters of recommendation from your superiors will improve your chances. Be a diligent, honest, responsible worker who takes initiative.
Most zoos require a bachelor’s degree in a biological science. They’re not picky, so choose whatever topic interests you the most. Examples include animal behavior, biology, environmental science, marine biology, and zoology. If you struggle with the sciences, another alternative is psychology since there’s a lot of psychology involved in animal training. However, if you have a degree and no experience, you will struggle to get hired. While a degree is often required, experience is more important than education.
Hopefully, this advice will help you decide whether zookeeping is for you! Once you turn 18, you can apply to work for our zoos here at Answers in Genesis. We hire lots of college students seasonally, many of which go on to be hired here full time. Good luck!