How to Become a Zookeeper

Zookeepers are some of the few people on Earth who are able to interact with wild and exotic animals as part of their day-to-day jobs. Read further to learn more about entering this exciting field. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Zookeepers care for wild animals that are housed in zoos. They also educate the public about the wildlife that inhabits our planet. The chart below shows the education requirements, job duties, and salary of zookeepers.

Degree Required Associate's degree; bachelor's preferred
Key Responsibilities Feeding of animals, cleaning of animal enclosures, education of the public
Job Growth (2016-2026) 22% (all animal care and service workers)*
Median Salary (2019) $12.50 per hour**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **

What Are the Job Duties of a Zookeeper?

Caring for animals in zoos is far more complicated than simply feeding and cleaning up after them. Zookeepers must carefully observe the animals that they care for and determine when they are unwell, design and maintain enclosures for the animals, and educate the public about the animals they care for. Additionally, in some zoos zookeepers may engage in animal husbandry and the raising of young animals if they have a breeding program.

What Are the Educational Requirements of a Zookeeper?

At a minimum, zookeepers must have an associate's degree. It is preferred, however, that they have a bachelor's degree. Their degree can be in a field such as animal science, zoology, or a similar area. Some zoos allow applicants to replace educational requirements with previous experience. However, the American Association of Zookeepers states that it is very rare for one to have a career in a zoo without some form of degree.

Is Zookeeper a Dangerous Job?

There is always an element of danger when working with any animal. This is especially true when working with wild animals. Zookeepers run the risk of being bitten by the animals they care for, including venomous animals, and risk being attacked by large, strong animals. Those who work in aquariums also have the risk of drowning. However, zookeepers are highly skilled individuals who are experts at handling their animals. The necessary skills to remain safe around wild animals in zoos are taught as part of degree programs, on-the-job training, and safety certification programs.

What Certifications Are Beneficial?

There are several certifications that the American Association of Zookeepers recommends one have on one's resume. For all zookeepers, they recommend current certification in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. For those who intend to work in aquariums, a SCUBA license and an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 24-Hour Hazardous Waste Operations Certificate of Completion are recommended. Additionally, the American Association of Zookeepers recommends that one earn other safety certifications as they become available.

What Personal Traits Does a Zookeeper Have?

Zookeepers are responsible for the health and welfare of the animals under their care. This requires that they be extremely observant. They see their animals daily and must catch if an animal's eating habits or daily habits change to ensure it continues receiving proper care. Zookeepers must also be skilled public speakers. A large part of a zookeeper's job involves interacting with the public and teaching them about the animals in the zoo.

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