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How to Get a Job in a Zoo

First impressions

The idea of working in a zoo has become a very popular one in recent years.

Media has played a big part in this. Television viewers have been presented with a seemingly endless run of assorted Zoo programmes both on local and national TV. These in turn are supplemented by excellent wildlife documentaries and animal cartoon cinema extravaganzas. Sadly there is much stuff and nonsense mixed in like White Tiger breeding.

Feed the Firefoxes

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It Looks Good

Zoos as portrayed on film look good.

Camera angle, weather and subject are naturally chosen to give a good impression and usually they succeed. The unsavoury part of the work is skipped over or given movie inches instead of feet.

You average zoo TV watcher then believes that all in the garden is rosy. It isn't. Usually these programmes do not even address why we have zoos in the first place.

Keeper at Work

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Zoos are not so very different

Zoos are not so very different to any other place of work. It is about people, visitors and your fellow staff. It is about money, money to pay the bills at the end of the week. It is about working conditions, restrooms and facilities, and whether your bosses care about you. It is about promotion, the opportunity to learn and progess.

All zoos are different. They have a different way of going about things though all good zoos today have active enrichment programmes and are involved in cooperative breeding programmes.

Elephant and Keeper

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Zoo Keeping is NOT work

Zoo Keeping is not work. Work is just a word. Zoo Keeping is a vocation, a way of life to which only the most committed and dedicated should apply.

The work can be hot, cold, wet, smelly, dirty, painful, tiring, demanding, trying, frustrating and upsetting. It is not easy.

Zoo Keeping is not about playing with animals or presenting shows in a crisp clean safari suit. It is not about rearing baby animals or going on expeditions up the Amazon.

These happen but they are rare. They are the nuggets which keep the zoos in staff.

Zoo Keeping is the best job in the world. Ask any keeper on a good day. They will even grudgingly admit it on a bad day. I have worked in zoos for 47 years and know it to be true.

Walking in step

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What Zoos Want

Each zoo will have its own criteria for choosing staff but what they are all looking for is someone with experience. Experienced staff have a grasp of what the work is about. Zoo Keeper wages are determined by experience and educational achievement.

By experience they mean someone who has worked in a zoo before either employed or as a volunteer or perhaps with work experience from school. Such people have a better understanding of what work REALLY entails and not some glossy TV idea.

Zoos are looking for other skills. Staff should be literate, be able to drive, operate machinery, talk to visitors, use a computer. The list is endless. At interview you would have to demonstrate an understanding of subjects like territories.

Today keepers joining the zoo at grass roots level often have university or college degrees. The discipline of learning is important.

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You can learn much more by visiting:

So You Would Like To Be A Zoo Keeper


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What Zoos do NOT want

Zoos do not want loners they want team players who can be trusted to work alone. They don't want people with an urealistic perception of animals. They don't want people who are sick all the time or want special treatment and consideration.

When you work in a zoo you become part of a family. A huge international fraternity of keepers.

If You Have Come This Far

If you have read this far then you are obviously seriously considering zoo keeping as a possible career.

Take a look at the Zoo Hubs. There is a mass of information there about Zoos, working in Zoos and more.

For current news items about zoos visit Zoo News Digest. From there you even subscribe to the mail out version and get even more information.

CHECK OUT ZOO JOBS for a current list of zoo work adverts.

If you make it to being a zoo keeper then read You Will Know You Are A ZooKeeper When..

Good Luck!


Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on February 16, 2013:

Definitely on the right track. I hired someone once purely on her child psychology degree and her enthusiasm. I could see her keeness and I thought this would help with education programmes. I was not wrong.

Ash1886 on February 16, 2013:

I'm about to receive my bachelors in psychology and am going on to take courses to receive a certificate in Zoo and Aquarium Science. Would I be considered for a position at a zoo or an aquarium based on my education? I've seen that a biology degree is a popular area of study for a career in a zoo or aquarium. I'm also looking into volunteering with 2 wildlife park/rehab facilities around the area. Am I on the right track? My main concern is whether or not my psychology degree will be an accepted degree. Any advice? Thanks!

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 07, 2012:

All I can say Sylphin is to keep trying. Get any foot on the ladder and this may mean forgetting about animals for a while....volunteer for any post within a zoo be it car park attendant, gardener or washer upper. Do whatever it is to your very best. Once you have proved yourself, made friends you will hear of opportunities that arise. I know one girl who lived in a tent outside of the collection she wished to volunteer at. She had very little money and they had no accommodation to offer. She worked all the hours that God sent and impressed the staff....she got a job....and moved on to bigger and better things twice within the year. It is never easy. I have always said that zoo work is largely about being the right person in the right place at the right time. Only you can make that happen.

Sylphin on December 07, 2012:

I graduated a year ago with an MSc in an animal field, I realised that I needed to get some experience because, due to my work schedule, I've been unable to reasonably gain much during the past 5 years. I've applied for volunteer positions at different zoos but I've been turned down at every zoo I've tried.

I noted there's a lot of queries pertaining to "how do I get the experience?" but what if you're someone like me that has all the education but it's apparent that's simply not good enough to warrant them even offering you an opportunity to volunteer?

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on October 22, 2012:

elephantchick - There are colleges that teach zookeeping. These are your best bet. If you have practical animal knowledge and experience that is a bonus. Hard work and being the right person in the right place at the right time is the real clincher.

elephantchick on October 22, 2012:

i love animals and grew up on a farm, i know about the long and hard work that's needed but what college knowledge do i need?

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on July 24, 2012:

It isn't easy Kristen.....and volunteering at an animal centre would give you an advantage. Check out the other links in the article as the advice is there. Forget about specialisation until you get the job as you need to get a toe in the door and onto any rung of the ladder to start. People make great sacrifices to make that start. I know a girl who lived in a tent for months outside of the collection she wished to work at and volunteered. She worked 12 hour days 7 days a week. She proved herself. Within two weeks of being offered a job she was offered two others in two other collections. There are dozens who have done similar.

abc123kristen on July 24, 2012:

Okay so aside from the already mentioned "you need experience to work in a zoo but how are you suppose to get this experience until you do work In a zoo" issue, how would I actually get experience in working in a zoo. I want to work in the reptile/amphibian section, and I could volunteer at an animal shelter but that wouldn't help me out really would it? I have eleven pet frogs, and a gecko, and have had a skink and turtles in the past. I think this will give me an advantage but I don't think it will get me as far as I need. Advice?

anuruddh kumar on April 04, 2012:

i love animal photography

zoogirl on December 25, 2011:

okay thanks so much for the advice!!! :)

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on December 24, 2011:

zoogirl, I will be honest with you. If you are allergic to fur and feathers it is a major problem. I have seen people go into a zoo career and have to leave because of this.

ALL animals count...right? Then concentrate on reptiles and amphibians. They are fascinating and as important as the mega vertebrates. You will learen to love them and allergies are rare. Good Luck.

zoogirl on December 24, 2011:

Im hoping to get a job at a zoo. Im a senior in high school and cant wait for college! I love animals so much, even though im allergic to a lot of them, i know i was meant to work with them. Im going to try and volunteer/get a job at my local zoo this summer. Do you have any tips or advice for me??

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on June 05, 2010:

You should get the experience as and where you can get it. This may mean volunteering at an animal shelter, a stables a charity or a zoo if they will have you. The modern zoo keeper is multitalented and needs to know about first aid, computers, basic maintenance, gardening and so much more. Aquire these skills. Get references and build up a portfolio. Read some of my other hubs and articles about zoos these will help you gain direction. Subscribe to ZooNews Digest and look at my ZooNews Digest Facebook page as that links back to jobs. See what people are asking from their candidates.

rekha rawat on June 05, 2010:

how will i get experience until or unless i will not get the job as zookeeper.i know i will work hard and do my best for the caring of animals.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on June 05, 2010:

Good luck Rekha. Study hard. Volunteer. Get experience.

REKHA RAWAT on June 05, 2010:

I want a job in zoo.i am from india.i love animals i want to do something for them and for the endangered whole day is spend on sawing dicovery,animal planet and national parents want me to do government job but i have only interst in animal.i feel so bad when someone not treated their pets properly it makes me unhappy that i can't do anything for them.i have genuine love for all animals n i want to save them from cruality.i have no experience yet.but i want the job in zoo that's my aim in life.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on October 11, 2009:

Sherriann - If there is not a zoo near you to start volunteering at then you have a bit of a problem. If you really want it you will be prepared to move and sacrifice but then again you may find you don't like zoo is not for everybody. If you can volunteer you will learn the ins and outs and be able to prove yourself. College is more and more essential. Keep an eye on as jobs appear there regularly. Maybe you will see one to suit you.

Sherriann on October 11, 2009:

I Understand That You Need Experience To Work In A Zoo But How Are You Suppose To Get This Experience Until You Do Work In A ZOO.. You Need To Start Somewhere Right? I Am Currently Working With Children But Im Not Sure I Would Like To Proceed With This Career. As Much As I Love Children You Only Live Once. And I Have Always Bin A Huge Fan Of Animals, And Would Love To Work In A Zoo But Have No Experience or Qualificatons In This Area. I Believe At 16 You Are Not Really Sure Where You Are Heasing And What Career You Would Like To Pursue Therefore Rush Into It Like I Did With Childcare.. So What Now How Do I Make Such A Drastic Career Change...? Another Four Years Studying? Can Anyone Suggest Another More Hands On Practical Way?

valerie delgado on September 27, 2009:

i want a job at a zoo i love animals

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