Career Development

What Does a Zookeeper Do?

Find out what a zookeeper does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a zookeeper.

Zookeepers are responsible for the care of animals in zoos, aquariums, and other types of animal parks. They spend their days feeding, cleaning, and interacting with the animals under their watch. Zookeepers may also be tasked with giving tours or presentations to visitors about the animals they’re caring for.

Zookeeper Job Duties

Zookeepers have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Preparing food for animals, including mixing formulas and preparing special diets
  • Observing and documenting animal behavior, including breeding cycles, communication methods, and inter-species relationships
  • Training keepers and other staff members in proper animal care techniques
  • Cleaning animal enclosures, including providing basic medical care such as cleaning wounds, removing parasites, and administering vaccines
  • Providing food, water, shelter, and veterinary care to animals in captivity
  • Observing and recording the behavior of animals in order to study their habits and patterns
  • Providing enrichment activities for animals including toys, scratching posts, or scent dispensers
  • Coordinating activities with other staff members, including veterinarians and animal trainers
  • Participating in educational programs for visitors by leading tours, conducting demonstrations, and answering questions about animal care and conservation efforts

Zookeeper Salary & Outlook

Zookeepers’ salaries vary depending on their level of education and experience, the size of the zoo they work for, and the location of the zoo. Some zookeepers are members of labor unions that negotiate wages on their behalf.

  • Median Annual Salary: $38,000 ($18.27/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $81,500 ($39.18/hour)

The employment of zookeepers is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade.

Zookeepers will be needed to care for the increasing number of animals in zoos and aquariums. In addition, as more people visit zoos and aquariums, more zookeepers will be needed to provide support for the large numbers of visitors.

Related: In-Depth Zookeeper Salary Guide

Zookeeper Job Requirements

A zookeeper typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Zookeepers typically need a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED). Some zoos may require an associate or bachelor’s degree in zoology, biology or a related field. These degrees can help zookeepers get a job in a specific field, such as marine biology or wildlife biology.

Training & Experience: Most zookeepers receive on-the-job training from their current or previous employers. This training helps zookeepers learn the specific needs of the animals in their care and the daily tasks they will perform. Training may include learning how to feed and clean the animals, how to interact with them and how to handle them if they become aggressive.

Certifications & Licenses: A zookeeper typically earns a professional certification to improve their job prospects and enhance their knowledge of the industry.

Zookeeper Skills

Zookeepers need the following skills in order to be successful:

Animal care: Zookeepers must have extensive knowledge of animal care to ensure the health and safety of the animals in their care. They must know how to handle and care for different types of animals, including mammals, reptiles, birds and fish. They must also know how to identify and treat common animal ailments.

Communication: Communication is the act of conveying information to others. As a zookeeper, you may need to communicate with other zookeepers, veterinarians, animal caretakers and zoo visitors. You can use communication skills to explain animal behavior, answer questions and provide educational information.

Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. As a zookeeper, empathy is an important skill to have when working with animals. You can use empathy to understand the needs of the animals in your care and to help them feel comfortable and safe.

First aid: First aid skills can be useful for zookeepers, as they may be required to treat animals that are injured or sick. First aid skills can also be useful for emergency situations, such as when an animal escapes its enclosure.

Problem-solving: A large part of a zookeeper’s job is to solve problems. They may need to find a way to keep animals safe from harm, find a way to treat an animal that’s sick or find a way to keep animals from escaping their enclosures.

Zookeeper Work Environment

Zookeepers work in zoos, animal sanctuaries, and aquariums. They are responsible for the care and feeding of the animals, as well as for maintaining the cleanliness of the animals’ living quarters. Zookeepers also monitor the health of the animals and provide them with enrichment activities to keep them active and stimulated. In addition, zookeepers educate the public about the animals in their care and work to promote conservation of these animals in the wild. Zookeepers typically work 40 hours per week, but they may be required to work weekends, holidays, and evenings. They also may be on call 24 hours a day in case of an emergency with an animal.

Zookeeper Trends

Here are three trends influencing how zookeepers work. Zookeepers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

More Focus on Animal Welfare

As society becomes more aware of the treatment of animals in zoos, zookeepers are being put under increased pressure to ensure that their animals are treated humanely.

This trend is leading to a greater focus on animal welfare in zoos, which means that zookeepers will need to be familiar with the latest animal care practices and techniques. They will also need to be able to communicate with the public about the importance of animal welfare and why it is important for zoos to follow these practices.

More Collaboration Between Zoos and Conservation Organizations

Zookeepers are increasingly collaborating with conservation organizations in order to help preserve endangered species.

This trend is driven by the increasing popularity of zoo exhibits that focus on conservation. By working with conservation organizations, zookeepers can provide a better understanding of the challenges facing endangered species and how they can be helped. In addition, this collaboration can lead to new breeding programs and other initiatives that can help save endangered species from extinction.

A Greater Emphasis on Education

The role of the zookeeper is changing as education becomes an increasingly important part of the job.

Nowadays, zookeepers are expected to not only care for the animals in their care but also educate visitors about them. This requires a deep knowledge of the animals in the zoo as well as the ability to communicate effectively with guests.

In order to meet the demands of today’s educational environment, zookeepers will need to develop new skills and learn how to use technology to enhance the learning experience.

How to Become a Zookeeper

There are many different paths you can take to become a zookeeper. You could start as a volunteer at your local zoo, then move up the ranks to become a keeper or assistant curator. Or you could go back to school and earn a degree in animal science or biology.

No matter which path you choose, it’s important to have a passion for animals and a desire to help them. You should also be willing to work long hours and on weekends when necessary.

Related: How to Write a Zookeeper Resume

Advancement Prospects

Most zookeepers start out in entry-level positions and advance to higher-level jobs as they gain experience. Some may eventually become supervisors or managers.

Advancement opportunities for zookeepers are expected to be best for those who have a bachelor’s degree in zoology or a related field, although some jobs may be available for those with a high school diploma. Those with experience in a related field, such as animal husbandry, also may have better opportunities.

Some zookeepers may become research assistants or field biologists. Others may find jobs teaching at the high school or college level. Still others may advance to management positions in zoos or aquariums.

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