Animal Caretaker and Zookeeper Job Duties
Becoming a zookeeper or other wild animal caretaker is certainly a labor of love. As part of the zookeeper job description, zookeepers are generally assigned to a certain section of a zoo, such as the primates, big cats, hoof stock, birds, or reptiles. Each working day, that zookeeper is fully responsible for every animal in their section. Every day zookeepers will clean every cage or exhibit thoroughly (lots of poop scooping), feed every animal, provide enrichment, and attend to medical needs as necessary. Zookeepers may also work on training animals for various husbandry behaviors, such as accepting medication or a veterinarian’s exam, or for public educational presentations. Regular cage and exhibit maintenance is also part of the daily duties. Zookeepers may also interact with the public and educate zoo visitors about the animals in their care. In some zoos, zookeepers are also part of endangered species breeding and management.
Zoo animals need care seven days a week 365 days a year, whether the zoo is open or not. Both entry level and more experienced zookeepers can expect to work weekends and holidays as needed. Some evening work may also be required on short notice if an animal needs emergency medical care. Work is done primarily outside and in all weather conditions. Zookeeper jobs are also highly physical. Daily work includes raking, shoveling, lifting heavy loads sometimes weighing more than 50 pounds, and climbing hills, rocks, and slippery surfaces.
Zookeepers are also at a high risk of getting injured from interaction with the wild animals including getting bitten, scratched, and being exposed to zoonotic diseases. Injury can also come from performing maintenance on the exhibits and while cleaning cages.
Zookeeper Salary for Zookeeper Jobs
“In May 2008, animal caretakers had average yearly wages of $21,550” states the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Entry-level positions at small non-profit zoos may only pay minimum wage. Supervising zookeeper positions at larger or city run zoos can pay the highest wages of about $20 an hour.
Education and Experience Requirements
Despite the low salary, becoming a zookeeper does require some education and experience in order to know how to best care for the animals and be competitive for the few available positions. Most zookeepers have some college that includes veterinary technology, biology, zoology, botany, chemistry, and public speaking courses. Many zookeepers also have a bachelor’s degree in a related field. A few attend specialized zookeeper colleges. Most zookeepers started as a volunteer, either in their current place of employment or at another animal related facility or nonprofit organization.
Skills that would help you become a zookeeper include: public speaking, working with kids, working with pets that require more unique knowledge such as horses or reptiles, veterinary experience, and dog training.
Where to Find Zookeeper Jobs
You can find wild animal caretaker zookeeper job postings on the zoo or sanctuary’s website or through the city or county’s job listings if the zoo is city or county operated. Also, zookeeping is just one of the many jobs at the zoo. You can work your way towards a zookeeper position by applying for and taking other zoo jobs.