Working for a Zoo without a Biology Degree
Do you need to be a Zoo Keeper to make a difference?
Short answer: No. Zoos and aquariums require the same type of jobs that any nonprofit organization requires: operations, accounting, fund raising, maintenance, house keeping, reception, human resources, marketing, education, guest services, retail. Not everyone is a zoo keeper, but everyone at a zoo helps the animals.
Long answer: Working with animals is something that many consider to be their "if money didn't matter" job. What most people don't realize is that there are so many jobs out there for animal lovers that require skills in areas outside of the sciences. I had no idea what potential the zoo and aquarium held until I stumbled into it...
I grew up loving animals and nature and even had the dream of becoming a "dolphin trainer" when I was around 10 years old. Soon after that age, I started spending nearly all of my time with my nose in a book. I read anything I could get my hands on until I was about 16 and started worrying more about girls and basketball (mostly girls) than keeping up with the latest fantasy novel or reading the classics. I still had my love of animals and the outdoors, but English and writing seemed to be more of my thing than biology. I didn't struggle in sciences classes, but I excelled in English. I wrote for the school newspaper, yearbook, and even did some (bad) creative writing. By the time I was applying for colleges, my mind was made up that I was going to pursue a career in English.
After some changes to my major (Creative Writing to Secondary Education to Practical Writing), I committed myself to the path of being a writer. Now, outside of teaching...English degrees make it difficult to define exactly what you are going to do with your life. I had decided I didn't want to teach so....I had to get creative.
I heard about grant writing, so I spent some time online and found out that nearly all 1.5 million nonprofits across the country need grant writers. I stumbled on an ad for a marketing/development internship at a Zoo that had grant writing in the job description. I didn't know what "development" was, but I figured I'd give it a shot. The Zoo that ad was for was a two hour drive away, but there was a zoo within about half an hour of my school and apartment, so I sent them an e-mail asking if they had any grant writing internships. The next thing I know, they create a position for me and I'm the new "Development Intern."
Zoo Job Postings
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums
The AZA has a great job listing resource for people looking for jobs in any field at zoos across the country.
Without any formal background in biology (other than my general education requirements for college), it took me a little while to get acquainted working in a zoo environment. Not that doing so was any problem for me, I spent any downtime wandering the zoo grounds, talking with co-workers about the animals, visiting exhibits, taking photos, and basically immersing myself into the zoo world. Before long I had built a solid foundation of knowledge about the zoo's history, our animals, and the different jobs that my co-workers performed on a day to day basis.
I spent my internship summer learning from my supervisor and other co-workers and was soon hired on as a full time employee. While my main job was in development, I branched out to work in other departments including: guest services, marketing, finance, information technology, and event planning. I was also trained as an "In-charge" person, which meant that on days that I was "In-charge" I was the go to person if there was a medical emergency, guest complaint, workplace accident, or any other issue that would arise while the zoo was open to the public.
Some of the projects that I was a big part included planning fund raising events like the Cheetah Chase 5K Run/Walk (which had over 1,400 participants), a wine tasting event, beer tasting event, and an annual Halloween trick-or-treat event. I also helped organize a campaign to raise money to renovate an exhibit for a pair of Red River Hogs that were residing in an off-exhibit holding area. Part of this campaign included creating a short promotion video, which you can watch below.
After a six month campaign, enough money was raised to build the exhibit for Harley and Squeaky, our two hogs. Seeing them out enjoying their new exhibit was a truly memorable experience for me and I was proud to do my part.
In the two and a half years of working at a Zoo, I acquired valuable experience and knowledge in the execution and management of a non-profit organization. Below is an excerpt from my resume (that recently landed me a higher paying job at a non-profit outside the zoo and aquarium industry).
- Managing donor, membership, paver, and A.D.O.P.T. an animal programs.
- Creating and maintaining constituent profiles in Raiser's Edge.
- Corresponding with members through phone conversation and e-mail.
- Assisting in the monthly reconciliation of the zoo’s financial records.
- Developing relationships with local businesses to secure event sponsorships and support.
- Soliciting donations from businesses and individuals for various opportunities through letters and personal contact.
- Researching grant opportunities, writing, and submitting proposals.
- Maintaining confidentiality and security of sensitive information.
- Building and maintaining donor relationships.
- Answering member questions and inquiries.
- Sharing in the management of the computer network, hardware, and software.
- Creating and maintaining a social media presence for the zoo.
- Assisting with organization and management of special fundraising events.
- Writing press releases and articles for Zoo publications.
- Taking photographs for use in zoo publications, media outlets, and fundraising tools.
Everyone Can Make An Impact
As you can see, even though I didn't work directly with the animals, they were always in the forefront of why I came into the office everyday. I utilized my skills and abilities in English and communications to help further the mission of the zoo and in turn, played my part in the conservation of the animals that have a special place in my heart.
If you have a heart for animals but do not see yourself as a zoo keeper, there are plenty of other career options in the zoo and aquarium world that are just as needed and just as rewarding.