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How to Become a Zookeeper: Get a Job Working with Animals

Updated on June 13, 2012
Zookeeper with a barn owl
Zookeeper with a barn owl | Source

So, you want to work with animals? Perhaps you've had pets as long as you can remember, and you find yourself gravitating toward places that help or work with animals. Or, maybe you love learning about biology and animals in books or in school, and think this is the career for you. If this describes you, a job as a zookeeper is an excellent choice!

As you begin your search for a job at a zoo, you will immediately learn that these jobs are few and far between. Most cities only have one zoo, so there are only so many jobs. Because many people want jobs in this industry, these jobs can be highly sought after.

But never fear! There are ways to get a job as a zookeeper. If you do a little work in advance, you can get the job of your dreams!

Getting Your Foot in the Door

Working with exotic and domestic animals is a dangerous way to spend your time. Even the most docile animal is still wild and can still react unexpectedly sometimes. For this reason, most zoos look for employees with previous experience and knowledge in working with animals. A love for animals helps, but it isn't enough to get a job in the industry.

The best way to get into the industry is to get some experience. But how do you get experience if you can't get a job at a zoo? The answer is simple: volunteer!

Giraffes on exhibit
Giraffes on exhibit | Source

Volunteer Opportunities

Most zoos and aquariums have many volunteer opportunities that allow you to gain direct, hands-on experience with animals. You can help with feeding or training animals, and get a real behind-the-scenes view of what a zookeeper does. You can also volunteer in education centers and as a naturalist, in which you will learn more about the animals and have the opportunity to share that knowledge with the public.

Before volunteering, you will be put through a screening process and then go through some training. This training is to ensure your safety as well as the safety of the people and animals around you. Although you will always be closely supervised when you work with or near the animals, you will learn more about zoo keeping than you could learn in any other way. Spending time observing and working with zookeepers is a very valuable step toward getting your career going.

If you are a teenager, many zoos have Zoo Teen programs in which you can volunteer for the summer. It's a great head start toward learning the job of a zookeeper.

Internships are also popular among students of all ages. Volunteer internships are usually one semester long, and can even provide college credit. Internships are often organized so that you learn a lot of different things in a short time, and can definitely jump start your path to working with animals in a zoo environment.

Ways to Beef Up Your Resume and Experience

Apply for an internship
Gather Information
Find a mentor
Ask questions
Check with your local Zoo

Other Ways to Learn

While experience is the best way to beef up your resume, there are other options to learn about working with animals. In addition to studying the web sites of your local animal care organizations, you can also ask questions each time you visit them. For example, when you go to a zoo, attend the shows and keeper chats that they provide, and ask questions.

As you are asking questions, ask zookeepers for advice on getting into the industry. They have done it, and can provide advice.

If you volunteer at a zoo, look for someone who can serve as a mentor for you in your search. They can provide valuable information about different organizations and zoos, as well as places to find job postings.

Finally, check the employment websites of zoos in your area and find out what their requirements are for zookeepers.


Don't Give Up!

There are many ways to break into the animal care industry. Learn as much as you can, and gain as much experience as you can. Talk to zookeepers and learn the ropes - you may be surprised at the ways you can work with animals right now through volunteer opportunities. Keep networking and learning, and you will see results!


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    • Rtimes profile image

      Rtimes 5 years ago from Placerville, California

      Studying zoology and biology in college is also an option to get someone headed in that direction. I loved many of your other ideas and the owl photo.