How to Be a Zookeeper
By Eric Hammer
If you came back from the zoo and decided that you want to
be a zookeeper, you wouldn't be the first person to ever entertain
that idea. Many people love animals and find the idea of working
in the local zoo and getting paid for it to be simply wonderful.
However, even though there is a lot to be said for being a zookeeper,
it's not all fun and games and the competition is extremely fierce.
If you want to be a zookeeper, you'll have to love animals
through the good and the bad. For example, dealing with the animals
doesn't just mean you get to stroke the side of the elephant's
body or feed him peanuts. You also have to clean out his cage
and clear away his feces when he takes care of his business.
It's a very dirty job, though those parts of it aren't always
seen by people who want to be a zookeeper.
In addition, there is fierce competition to be a zookeeper.
One zookeeper whose web site we looked at for this article mentions
how the zoo she works at gets at least 100 applications for every
open position at the zoo.
Now that's not to say that it's all bad to be a zookeeper.
Quite the contrary. You get to work with some of nature's most
majestic creatures and you get to truly enjoy them in their natural
habitats (or as close as you can make it anyway in a zoo). It's
just that it's not only the show that you watch at the zoo when
you go for a visit.
How Much Can You Make?
For all that the competition for jobs as a zookeeper is quite
heavy, the salary tends to be relatively low. According to the
bureau of labor statistics, the average salary in 2008 was just
$21,550 per year. Indeed.com offers a slightly more encouraging
picture, suggesting that the average salary is actually closer
to $33,000 per year as of 2011.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
If you want to be a zookeeper but you can't seem to find a
job right away, don't despair. There are lots of jobs that involve
animal care and most of them tend to be much easier to get than
the job of zookeeper. You could be a wildlife surveyor, a veterinarian
(including one who works in zoos), a marine biologist or any
number of other professions surrounding the care and feeding
However, for those who are committed and have decided that
they simply must be a zookeeper, some advice: the number one
thing that zoos look for is not so much your education as your
experience. Of course, this is the age old problem that people
have in any job - you can't get a job without experience, but
you can't get experience without a job. The solution for many
would be zookeepers is to become a volunteer. In fact, many professional
zookeepers have started out life working as a volunteer before
they finally managed to land a full time position in a zoo.
Qualifications / Requirements
While officially some zoos will require nothing more than
a high school education, for all practical purposes, having at
least a bachelor's degree in zoology or animal science is usually
the minimum to get a job as a zookeeper.
Start by volunteering at the local zoo. Not only will you
be able to gain valuable work experience, but you will also see
if your really do want to be a zookeeper since you'll get to
experience the day to day work behind the scenes.
Check out these helpful resource to learn more about how to
be a zookeeper:
Bureau of Labor
Statistics: Zookeeper - Enter "zookeeper" in the
search box for some good information on requirements and pay.
University of Florida: How to Become a Zookeeper
- Written by a professional zookeeper, this is an excellent guide
to what it really takes to land a job as a zookeeper.
Sara's Zookeeper Page - A blog from a zookeeper
about life for someone who always knew she wanted to be a zookeeper.