How to become a zookeeper

The life of a zookeeper is tough but highly rewarding. If you have a passion for wildlife and conservation, and you enjoy taking care of animals, then why not become a zookeeper? In general, zookeepers work in very specific locations. In zoos, laboratories, wildlife parks, on conservation projects, at animal rescue centres and in veterinary surgeries. The task you carry out are often physically demanding, and on the other hand, they are often scientific. The job offers an excellent balance of brain and body engagement! Just think, at least you won’t need a gym membership. Many zoos hold programs educating members of the public. You will usually get involved with these initiatives. Do you think you can bring to life the science behind a penguin breeding program? Or think of crazy animal facts to get children excited and engaged?

In short, as a zookeeper, the work you do is different every day. You will have a number of different “hats” to wear to work: the scientific, the physical, and the educator! If you are passionate about wildlife and will appreciate a workday which challenges you in different ways. Then why not become a zookeeper? Check out the steps you need to take and find the perfect course to get started. 

Step one: Study for your professional tertiary accreditation

To qualify to work as a zookeeper you must complete a professional tertiary accreditation.  This training will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in the role. Due to the specialised knowledge required from zookeepers. Focusing on your education is important.

Step two: Apply for a job

Once you have qualified, you can begin to look for work. Zookeeper work requires a specific location for opportunities, so keep an open mind about where you want to live and work. There is some growth forecast in the industry, job prospects are rising a little and at least remaining steady. Don’t forget to tailor your resume and cover letter for each job application. Take the time to highlight your qualifications, personal strengths, and any relevant experience you may have.

Step three: Gain experience

Well done, you have found a job! Now you have your ideal job as a zookeeper, get stuck in and build up your experience in the field. Over time, you will get to know your personal passions and tastes within the role and the aspects of your work you aren’t so keen on. Then, from this position of experience, you can consider directions for your career progression.

Step four: Consider a specialisation

As a zookeeper, you carry out important work which has the potential to make a difference in the world. There are many specialisations you can consider. You may need to pursue further education or tailor your education from the start with these opportunities in mind. Here are three possibilities to consider. 

Researcher

As a researcher, you use science to analyse and seek conservation solutions. You may work within a zoo, from a university, or at a conservation organisation. You work to preserve endangered species through conservation and wildlife management. Through your work, you try to manage and reduces threats to wildlife. For example, disease, climate change, and destruction of ecosystems. This is an academic role so you will need qualifications in zoology, veterinary studies, or biology.

Education Officer

In this specialisation, your focus is on education.  You work with the public to inform and influence ordinary people to care about wildlife and do their small part to help conservation. The work may involve developing educational programs, workshops, volunteering programs, and curating educational exhibits. You need to pursue qualifications in tertiary studies. Choosing courses such as cell biology, conservation biology, zoology or ecology.

Veterinarian

As a zoo veterinarian, your focus turns to the health and well-being of the animals at the zoo or wildlife park. You tend to the medical needs of the animals, and put health plans into action to prevent sickness or injuries in the first place. Veterinarians often work in close collaboration with research organisations.

What do Zookeepers do?

Zookeepers daily tasks are mainly centred around the care of all the animals in the zoo. This means, taking food and water to them, monitoring their health and well-being, and cleaning out enclosures. Moreover, you will work on any breeding programs your zoo is taking part in. Depending on where you work, you can play a role in conversation programs returning animals to the wild. Sometimes, zoos conduct humane experiments on the animals and you help to record the results. Likewise, you conduct examinations on the animals in the zoo. Taking bodily fluids for testing, and track the health of the animals for common problems like worm infestations. Similarly, you monitor the animals reactions to tests, calculate drug dosages, and prepare reports. You must follow the relevant zookeeping codes of practice at all times, and keep ethics at the forefront of your practice.

Tasks

  • Giving food and water to the animals at the zoo
  • Disinfecting and cleaning enclosures
  • Sterilising equipment
  • Working on breeding programs
  • Monitoring animals for good health and well-being
  • Contributing to public education programs

Skills for Success

Firstly, you must have a passion for wildlife, and a genuine desire to work caring for animals. If you are a passionate conservationist this is a big strength. Zookeeping work requires technical and academic skills but at the same time the demands of the job are very physical. Besides, you need to have a good balance of strength and intelligence! You should not mind getting dirty, cleaning out enclosures, or handling large animals. Importantly, you should not have any allergies to animals. If you are a patient compassionate person, who is confident around animals. Then, you have qualities which are important to success in this role. Furthermore, you should know and understand the occupational health and safety policies. Lastly, there is some scientific work involved in your work as a zookeeper. This means you need confidence and knowledge in science as well. Your qualifications should demonstrate your scientific background.

Skills and attributes

  • Observant
  • Patient
  • Caring and passionate about animal welfare
  • Confident around animals of different shapes and sizes
  • Willing to perform messy tasks
  • Enjoy working outdoors
  • Physically strong. Many tasks are demanding physically

What’s the zookeeper salary in Australia?

In Australia, zookeepers earn a median wage of $64,686 per year. This varies according to a number of factors and is intended as a reference only, from Payscale 05/’18.

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