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Zoos, How to Get Big Cat Jobs, Internships and Education

Updated on December 5, 2012

What to do when you want to work with the Big Cats at the Zoo

Specialize in a Career With Big Cats

You have decided that you want an education in working specifically with big cats. Lions, tigers, cheetahs, lynx, bobcats and more. Each have their own unique style and cravings among the wild. For zoo keepers who manage big cats in captivity, this specialized career demands that these elite few have done some pretty heavy work to achieve such a prestigious job as the big cat zoo keeper. This field has many dangers as well as many more rewards. Realistically, to acquire a job working with the big feline breeds, you will need to begin your journey by getting formal education topped off with real hands-on zoo or animal sanctuary experience. So, buckle into your school desk, because your future is going to be filled with getting a degree in zoology, animal science, biology or wildlife biology just to get you out of the starting gate!

Captive Bobcat

Inside an isolation enclosure with a "female Bobcat" who was not expecting a guest!
Inside an isolation enclosure with a "female Bobcat" who was not expecting a guest! | Source

Depending on the college you attend and what it offers—zoology, animal science, biology—will determine which major you will study. As you work toward your formal big cat zoo related degree, you are going to need to take on some extra activities. First, you are going to want to start looking for internships at zoos. Because your desire is to work with big cats at the zoo, you are looking specifically for internships in carnivore departments. Working with the zoos big cat populations is a really difficult specialty to break into, so you must get all of the practical experience working with zoos and sanctuaries you can. These internships are the most probable way to gain this luxury experience. Keep in mind that the majority of internships are NOT-For-Pay ventures, but the hands on experience will prove to be priceless in the long run. Much of the best stories and educational input offered by animal science, zoology and biology students have been derived regularly from their internship programs. Some things you just can't learn from even a great text-book.

Where to Locate Internships with Carnivores for Zoo Education

To start with, and most probably the best place to look for an internship with carnivore is with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). They are looking to fill many positions and even a few for a Carnivore Zookeeper. As you will see, the required education and experience is rather extensive when compared to the pay being offered. Be mindful that most of these are actual job listing, not internships. However, you will be looking in the right place for carnivore internships when paging through the job listings on the AZA website. They have current listings for several internships at zoos throughout the country.


Captive TIGER

Male Bengal Tiger enjoying a salt-lick in captivity.
Male Bengal Tiger enjoying a salt-lick in captivity. | Source

Zoo Internships and Zoo Jobs

Within the body of most of the listings for Zoo positions and internships, you find requirements regarding your overall health and well being. Some position reject those who have allergic reactions to venom and bites. This is not a discrimination issue, but rather a safety issue. Some of the zoo jobs demand being able to lift 50Lbs along with having other physical prowess.

While searching through the zoo employment and internship listings on the AZA website, you will read things pertaining to husbandry skills, training skills and enrichment demonstrations. These indicate that you will be teaching the things you know in a public forum. You will also find a pay scale for zoo jobs and benefit packages. Few, if any internships offer such benefits.

Educational requirements are defined within the listings. A Baccalaureate Degree in biology, science, or animal related behaviour will pop-up in almost every zoo job requirement listing. You may be surprised to find that some of the most demanding positions start at around the $30K range in annual salary—but do offer good benefit packages.


A Few of the Best Big Cat Zoo & Internship Education

International Exotic Animal Sanctuary

First sanctuary to be granted certification by the AZA. They offer Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall sessions for internships. You can find dates and full information on their site.

Big Cat Rescue

The Big Cat Rescue program offers you volunteer opportunities and a few internships. The internship program is a very good start for any big cat zoo keeper to-be!

I have provided a direct link to each of the internship pages for either of these outstanding programs. Both have high marks in the zoological world and you will find a great amount of information to help guide you toward a career in captive Big Cat zoo keeping.


Captive Leopard

A "female Leopard" in rehab isolation after a minor injury.
A "female Leopard" in rehab isolation after a minor injury. | Source

A Practical Look at Zoos and Big Cats

Knowing that a big cat is at the very top of the food chain brings with it some unusual causes for concern. Zoos maintain these large felines for conservation, education and entertainment purposes. In captivity, these animals can turn to unnatural habits and behavior due to the lack of space, illness, or new surroundings. Only with a compilation of course study, research and hands-on experience is positive captivity achieved for big cats.

***These components will also make for a safer environment for the big cat zoo keeper.***

In comparing Big Cats with other dangerous zoo attractions, venomous creatures come to mind. When dealing with and keeping venomous creatures, zoo keeper's maintain a healthy fear and awareness for the striking possibility of being bit and succumbing to a deadly snake bite. Recent advancements in medical venom-know-how has been increased with the help of venom stocks and specialized venom-trained doctors who manage the acquisition of venom antidote stores. (Florida's VENOM ONE holds the largest and best known collection of common and obscure venom antidote's in the world.)

What Do You Think About Working With Big Cats?

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However, when it comes to the viable survival of a big cat attack, not even specialized medical training can make up for the damage caused by these powerful killing machines. This is the biggest reason for the many requirements and demands placed on the student who is working toward a zoo career in this specialized carnivorous field. Big cats are among the most fascinating and beautiful zoo creature's we maintain in captivity. They are also at the top of the list of those creatures that require the most direct experience and training to handle. These training demands make for a reliable and safe days work in the life of a big cat zoo keeper's career.


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Comments for Zoos - Careers with big cats

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  • profile image

    spond741 4 years ago

    So happy to support your organization.

  • profile image

    alexis 4 years ago

    thanks you so much! helped a lot! ive always wanted to work with animals, paticularly with big cats. but i was wondering where would be a good place to go to college where i could receive a good education in zoology and animal science?

  • Sinea Pies profile image

    Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

    Love big cats. When I go to the zoo, they are my favorites. In college, I had the most gorgeous photo poster of two tigers on my wall, I love it. Interestingly, I am not attracted to domesticated house cats. When I look at the movement of big cats, they remind me of dogs, not cats. Strange, huh? This hub is so good. Voted up and interesting.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

    What a fantastic job that would be! I love all cats, big and small. This was great reading, thanks! and voted up! cheers nell

  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 5 years ago from Northern, California

    masego~ I do too. Nothing so majestic and beautiful has such power up close as do big cats.


  • profile image

    masego 5 years ago

    just love spending time looking at the big cats

  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 5 years ago from Northern, California

    Melissa~ I can see your point. But, the premise is that to gain the necessary skills to manage big cats (carnivores) you usually need to have direct-contact handler experience. An internship with big cats is just about the only way to achieve such lofty requirements. And what better place to gain the best know-how than through a Big Cat Rescue internship. Thanks for offering your thoughts on the issue, I appreciate your input.


  • Melissa A Smith profile image

    Melissa A Smith 5 years ago from New York

    Interesting that Big Cat Rescue is a popular choice for aspiring zoo keepers, as their philosophy is overtly anti-zoo.

  • profile image

    Rachel 6 years ago

    I'm so happy I found this site! Working with big cats is something I've wanted to do since I was a child. This site helped me out on where I need to get things started! Can't wait to begin... :)

  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

    Livelonger~ Thank you very much for the comments. I am always glad to see you stopped by. I had fun snapping the shots of the big cats, so I appreciate that you enjoyed the images!


  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 6 years ago from San Francisco

    Informative and with great pictures - yet another great Hub, K9!

  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

    Pam~ So happy you made it by today. I am glad that people want to study this area as well. Many blessing to you this Christmas season! Thank you for the comments.


  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

    I enjoy going to the zoo and I love to look at the big cats but I never would want that as a career. I am a chicken around animals that are larger than I and have teeth. I enjoyed your hub and it is good some people want this as a career. Merry Christmas to you.