how to be a zookeeper schoolThe growth in wildlife, conservation, and environmental jobs has also led to growth in educational opportunities. This list includes many of the more unique educational opportunities for those seeking jobs in wildlife. However, the listings in no way represent any type of guarantee. You will need to do your own research to determine which environmental or animal college program best fits your needs. Choose a school based on reputation, the curriculum focus that best matches your own career goals, and associated costs which may include location—not having to move across the country will save you money. Remember, you are probably not going to earn a starting wage above $20,000 to $30,000 for many of these types of jobs. A high student loan balance will be a strain on your finances.

Also strongly consider the well roundedness of the program. Jobs in wildlife, no matter the discipline are competitive and limited. An educational program that also covers disciplines outside your current primary focus will provide you with many more opportunities throughout your environmental, conservation, or wildlife career. You may have dreams of becoming a dolphin trainer, but those jobs are few are far between. When job hunting, you may find the other skills and knowledge, such as zookeeping, environmental issues, environmental research techniques, or wildlife education, you learned while in school are what get you in the door to your new career.

You should also understand that some of these programs and classes, while they may have the highest reputation in the field, do not transfer to other colleges due to the uniqueness of the program or lack of accreditation.

Zookeeping, Wildlife Education, and Animal Training Colleges and Schools

Exotic Animal Training and Management (EATM) – Moorpark College

Degree Offered: Associate’s or Certificate in Exotic Animal Training and Management with options for specialization in Animal Behavior Management and Wildlife Education

Accreditations: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

Location: Moorpark, California

Length of Program: 2 years

Description: The EATM program is located at the college’s on site zoo that houses over 150 animals. Students at America’s Teaching Zoo spend two years (including summers) working hands on with wild and domestic animals learning everything from how to properly and safely clean cages, how to meet the nutritional and medical needs of the animals, public education techniques, and how to train every species from lions and tigers to parrots and primates for public education and interaction and husbandry behaviors. Courses that provide the foundation for the knowledge gained by students can be intense and include veterinary courses, horticulture, animal behavior, and animal husbandry. Competition is stiff as the program only accepts about 50 students a year. Previous volunteer and paid experience along with at least some college is highly recommended before applying. Some students apply to EATM after having obtained a bachelor’s degree.  The application process involves a mandatory orientation and interview. Many graduates go on to become a trainer in zoos, aquariums, and other wild animal venues, park rangers, and environmental educators.

To get inside info on student life in the Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark college, read Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched by Amy Sutherland.

Santa Fe College Zoo Animal Technology Program

Degree Offered: Associates in Zoo Animal Technology

Accreditations: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

Location: Gainsville, Florida

Length of Program: 2 years

Description: The Santa Fee College’s Zoo Animal Technology Program also has an onsite Teaching Zoo. Through working at the Teaching Zoo and taking college courses, students learn how to care for a variety of species including gibbons, small wild cats, raptors, and reptiles. Public interaction and wildlife education are also key aspects of this program. The program’s courses include animal nutrition, aquarium culture, animal breeding, and animal management. To earn the associate’s degree, general education courses are also required. The program only accepts about 60 students per year and is on a first come first served basis. Past graduates have become animal trainers, science teachers, fish and game officers, and zookeepers, and other careers with wildlife.

Cat Tales Zoological Training Center

Degree Offered: Certificate of Achievement

Accreditations: None

Location: Mead, Washington

Length of Program: 48 weeks

Description: Located at the Cat Tales Zoological Park just north of Spokane, Washington, the Cat Tales Zoological Training Center focuses on teaching students all aspects of feline care and management. The majority of the animals at the zoo are cats, from the small endangered clouded leopard to mountain lions and African lions. This includes training, behavior, safety, medical care, zookeeping, breeding, and feeding of cubs and adult cats. Students must complete 1,920 hours that includes working and taking classes 40 hours per week. Graduates go on to work in zoos, wildlife centers, and in wildlife education.

*Top raccoon zookeeper photo by Anan Kaewkhammul/