Exotic Animal Trainer: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become an exotic animal trainer. Learn about education requirements, job opportunities and duties, as well as salary, to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is An Exotic Animal Trainer?

Exotic animal trainers work with animals such as snakes, elephants and whales. One of their primary tasks is to familiarize these animals with human interaction, because they often show these animals to groups of people or even for movie or television appearances. They need a high level of comfort with the animals, and they need strong communication skills to ensure the safety of the audience, other performers and the animals themselves. Exotic animal trainers use training techniques such as operant conditioning and positive reinforcement to train the animals to perform in a certain way. Part of their duties may involve the care of the animals, and they may also be responsible for breeding the animals in their care.

Degree Required Associate's degree, bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Animal science, animal psychology, zoology
Key Responsibilities regular monitoring of animal's health, grooming of animals, transporting animals to different locations, train others on how to interact with animals
Job Growth (2014-2024) 11% (for all animal trainers)*
Median Salary (2015) $26,610 (for all animal trainers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types Of Programs Are Available For Exotic Animal Trainers?

A bachelor's degree program in animal science, animal psychology, zoology or a related field will provide you with elemental knowledge about the habits and needs of various animals. Many of these programs offer concentrations in exotic animal care. Some colleges may also offer associate's degree programs specifically in exotic animal training and management. Once you've garnered a formal understanding of the behavioral patterns of animals and training methods, undergoing observation and hands-on training will continue to prepare you for future opportunities in this career.

What Are the Essential Job Duties?

As an exotic animal trainer, you may work with marine animals, like dolphins, whales and seals, or land animals, such as bears, lions, tigers, elephants and monkeys. Your primary objective will be to make animals familiar with the human voice and human touch in order for them to become responsive to commands. Various training techniques can be utilized, but those focusing on positive reinforcement are generally the most accepted and have been shown to yield the best results. Training will require long periods of repetition in order for the animal to develop habits and steady trust in you, the trainer.

Your duties will likely also include regular monitoring of the health and grooming of animals. Depending on the job, you may need to assist in the transportation of animals to different locations. Since many exotic animal training positions are in the entertainment industry, you'll likely also be called upon to train other actors and performers on how to interact with animals.

What Kind of Jobs Are Available?

Exotic animal trainers most often train animals for use in entertainment industries such as circuses, film and television productions, zoos and theme parks. Your work environment and travel expectations will depend on the type of job you have. For instance, workers at zoos and amusement parks will generally have a stable work location, while those in the circus or film industry will typically travel between various locations on a consistent basis. Other opportunities do exist, including the training of animals for medical interaction so that tests, shots and blood samples can be used for research and environmental protection. Some trainers even work with highly intelligent animals, like dolphins, for use in rescue and military operations.

What Salary Can I Expect?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most animal trainers earned between $18,160 and $57,170, with a median annual wage of $26,610, as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Work in highly successful entertainment productions will likely provide you with even greater financial opportunities. While employment for the majority of animal care workers is expected to steadily increase, you'll likely face heightened competition for exotic animal training opportunities. Superior training, continued experience working with a variety of animals and high levels of patience and passion for the work will strengthen your chances of employment.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Animal trainers perform the same types of tasks as exotic animal trainers, but they usually focus on working with domesticated animals, such as dogs or horses. A high school diploma may be sufficient for this career, but some positions do require a bachelor's degree or training program. This job can involve training animals for a variety of purposes, including for competitions or as therapy animals for people with disabilities or illness. Animal trainers may also work with police dogs and train them to locate drugs, bombs or to track suspects. Veterinary technologists and technicians also work with animals, and may focus primarily on domesticated animals. They need an associate's degree, and they assist veterinarians in the treatment of animals.

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