SO YOU WANT TO BE A ZOOKEEPER
We are frequently contacted by individuals who are interested in pursuing Zookeeping as a profession. The question on their mind is always “What do I need to do to get a job as a Keeper?” Seems like a reasonable question, but the answer is not so simple. I would like to explore this and look at some ideas that may be helpful in the often frustrating task of finding employment as a Zookeeper. Please keep in mind that these are only my thoughts and suggestions. There certainly is no guarantee that you’ll find the position you are seeking, but for the right person, the job is waiting. The candidate with a good balance of education and experience is most likely to be successful.
First, a word of caution…Zookeeping is certainly not for everyone. The perception of a keeper spending their time “playing” with animals is far from the truth. The work is hard and physical, in no way glamorous. That being said, no other position allows the connection a keeper can often form with the animals they care for.
Gaining the needed experience can be a bit of a challenge. Typically, the most desirable candidate will have paid, full time zoo experience at an AZA accredited facility. However, ANY animal experience is helpful. Employment at a pet store, veterinary clinic, nature center, rehabilitation facility, farm, etc, can all be of value. Seasonal positions at a zoo are a great way to “get your foot in the door”. That type of work will indicate you have first hand knowledge of what is expected of a keeper. Volunteering can also be extremely valuable and a variety of positions are available at many zoos. Internships, paid or unpaid, can also be beneficial.
Of course, formal education is another important aspect to be considered when evaluating potential candidates. The college or university attended is not as critical as the degree and courses taken. A bachelor’s degree with some type of biology major is normally sufficient. Of course, a more advanced degree may be helpful, especially if your ambition goes further than zookeeping.
While extensive experience may waive certain educational requirements, the reverse is not true. Regardless of the amount of education achieved, first-hand experience will always be required. When considering where to begin your zoo employment, be as flexible as possible. Those who are willing to re-locate and spend a minimum of three years in a position will often be the first to find full-time employment.
A professional resume, with a number of references, is expected. A well written resume and cover letter can be your ticket to an interview. There are a number of resources available that help with the resume and interview process.
Patience and persistence may be the key. Most do not obtain a position with their first interview. Those who persist, and continue to broaden their experience, are likely to find a position at some point.
Most keepers are truly passionate about their work and will simply not consider another profession. They consider themselves fortunate to be doing what they love.
Best of luck in your pursuit of a career as a zookeeper!