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Exotic Animal Careers: Job Opportunities & Salary

Discover some of the jobs you might find in the exotic animal field. Learn information about salaries, job opportunities and education requirements for a variety of of these career options.

Career Information at a Glance

Exotic animal jobs encompass a wide range of career paths. Wildlife biologists and zoologists study animal habitats and behavior; some even help save species by developing plans for conservation. Veterinarians diagnose and treat diseases in livestock and pets, but some specialize in exotic animals. Zookeepers are responsible for the care and feeding of collections of animals in zoos. The pay and education requirements for these professions vary. Take a look at this chart to get a better idea of how much you'll be paid and what you'll need to do to work in the field.

Zoologist Veterinarian Zookeeper
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Doctoral degree Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Zoology, wildlife biology Veterinary medicine Animal science, biology or a related field
Licensure and/or Certification None required State licensing is required None required
Job Growth (2018-2028) 5%* 18%* 16%*
Median Salary (2018) $63,420 per year* $93,830 per year* $23,950 per year (for all animal care and service workers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Kinds of Jobs Involve Exotic Animals?

As a zoologist, you'd be tasked with studying animal behaviors and habitats in both zoo and wild settings. This could mean collecting blood or stool samples, making careful observations about animal interactions and studying the impact of human encroachment on habitats. Using this information, you might collaborate with other professionals to come up with ways to help preserve species in the wild.

The veterinary field is more focused on keeping individual animals healthy and thriving. Some vets care for a zoo's collection of precious species, while others work with exotic pets in private clinics.

Zookeepers handle the day-to-day care of animals in a zoo. This can mean giving the animals baths, making specialty foods and monitoring their behavior.

What Education Do You Need to Work with Exotic Animals?

Education requirements vary from profession to profession. In addition to a bachelor's degree, a veterinarian will need to get a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, which typically takes four years to complete. Zoologists need at least a bachelor's degree in biology, zoology or wildlife biology to enter the field, with more research-intensive positions requiring a graduate degree. While some animal care positions only require a high school diploma, most zoos want applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in a related field.

What Other Skills Will You Need?

Some jobs that involve exotic animals require a specific set of skills in addition to the educational requirements. For instance, wildlife veterinarians may have worked with common mammals in school, but a job at a zoo might require them to know how to do checkups and bloodwork on everything from snakes to lemurs. Vets can choose to complete internships and residencies to earn board certification in the exotic animal specialty area.

Also, exotic animals can be unpredictable and can't be reasoned with, so people without a high level of patience might be frustrated easily. Employers want people with knowledge in the field, but they also look for workers who have compassion and an ability to remain calm under pressure. Not sure if you have what it takes? Shadow a professional in the field - you'll get valuable hands-on experience and you'll find out if this is the career for you.

How Much Can You Make?

The median salary for an animal care and service worker at a zoo as of November 2019 was $33,808, or $12.50 per hour, according to Payscale.com. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for a zoologist or wildlife biologist in 2018 was $63,420 per year. Zoologists working for computer systems design and related services earned the most. Veterinarians pulled down a median yearly salary of $93,830 in 2018, with those working for management, scientific, and technical consulting services earning the most.

How Does the Future Look?

According to the BLS, job opportunities for zoologists and wildlife biologists are expected to go up 5% between 2018 and 2028. The veterinary and animal care fields are expected to experience a much faster job growth - 18% and 16%, respectively.