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How To Start A Career As A Zoo Professional

Updated on September 22, 2016

Zoos are a symbol of animal education and entertainment, as well as bastions for global research and conservation efforts. Becoming a zoo professional can be a rewarding job for the passionate few who want to devote their lives to the care of a wide range of animal species.

What’s not so apparent is a clear or straightforward pathway by which someone could quickly land the zoo job of their dreams. Until recently, professionals would come from a varied world of experiences and education, so there really isn’t one best way to get there.

However, there are exceptions and some ways aspiring students and workers can begin their careers in zoo science and zoo management. Here’s a comparison of the types of degrees, schools, and suggested experiences that hopeful zoo workers should get under their belt.

College Education

Not quite a standard across zoos, but one of the biggest things that can go a long way to help jump starting a career in zoo management is seeking out course work at a reputable college or university. Ideally, students will want to major in something that has an explicit focus on the study or care of animals.


Zoology refers to “is the branch of biology that studies the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct, and how they interact with their ecosystems.” Many high-level universities offer this course of study and these graduates move on to do great things in their field.

When broken down to it’s simplest, zoology is about the study of animals and therefore the profession is one based almost entirely in research. Many students of zoology end up as professors themselves since universities offer the basis for most educational research projects. Zoologists will be incredibly valuable assets to zoos of any size, but this doesn’t necessarily mean these people will excel at understanding how to care for animals which live in captivity.

Animal Sciences & Animal Husbandry

Outside of zoology, the next logical path to follow in higher education is a degree which focuses on animal science (or husbandry). Rather than a holistic understanding of the animal kingdom, animal science has a greater emphasis on the biology of animals as these students will often move on to become veterinarians.

Taking care of animals is a primary function of zoo keepers, so animal science is another highly valuable study if interested in working in a zoo. Graduates shouldn’t expect a job to fall into their laps, however, and should plan to gain experience in other ways before becoming a truly desirable candidate for employment.

Zoo Science

Lastly, with coursework that blends areas covered in both zoology and animal science, is Zoo Science. Admittedly, this degree did not exist some years but now has started to pop up in quite a few universities degree offerings.

As mentioned earlier, zoo science degrees include areas of study consistent in both zoology and animal science degrees which offers the best of both worlds. The primary difference with zoo science is that the degree is specifically designed to focus on a pathway to help students work in a zoo. Not only that, but this degree also has a fair share of volunteer and other relevant experiences in the curriculum.

Getting Experience: Where & How To Get Started

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Working in zoo is almost like any other line of work in modern times; education alone won’t get someone very far. A mix of both relevant education and experience are a winning combination towards landing the ideal zoo job.

Education is always a good idea and some degrees will try incorporate real-life experience into the curriculum, there are a ton of other places to get experience.

Volunteer Work: Local Animal Shelter

Since most areas have something in the way of a local animal shelter, these facilities are always looking for some kind of help. This is the quickest way to get hands-on experience and a lot less competition if looking to jump straight into volunteering at a local zoo. Local shelters are often the best way to taking the first steps into gaining more experience.

Volunteer Work: Endangered Species Group

Zoos were once run with the express purpose to display exotic animals for guests that most people would probably never see in their lifetime. Now, zoos have shifted to become symbols of conservation and promote the efforts of preserving endangered species. Volunteering with an endangered species group can showcase a unique set of experiences gained and give a slight edge over other candidates.

Volunteer Work: Internships With One or Multiple Zoos

Internships will often not be the defining reason for getting a career in zoo management, but they are valuable for those who put in the effort during their time. In fact, if a decent impression is left with management of a zoo, those individuals may become motivated to offer their star intern a job.

Start Learning, Get Your Hands Dirty!

Getting a job at a zoo should be looked at as it were any other respectable profession. It require dedication, hard work, willingness to succeed and a breadth of knowledge and experience to get you there. These careers are attainable, so go out and find the pathway that works out for you.


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