How to Become a Zookeeper: Degrees, Schools & Career Info

We kind of like animals more than we like people and that prompted us to write about how to become a zookeeper today. From what we can tell, this seems like a super fun job even if you might go home every day stinking to high heaven and covered in various bits of fecal matter.

How to Become a Zookeeper

As a zookeeper you’re going to be tasked with caring for animals and their habitats in zoos. You will probably have a pretty good time working in this field because it really doesn’t get much better than working with animals and educating the public about nature and its creatures. Here is how to become a zookeeper!

Step 1: Earn a Degree

How to Become a ZookeeperOne of the good things about becoming a zookeeper is that the educational requirements are not as heavy as some career choices out there. You can start out with an associate’s degree that has an emphasis in science to gain a solid background before moving on to an undergraduate degree, but make sure to take as many science courses as possible to ensure that you are ready to move forward.

After you have an associate’s degree in your review mirror you can move on to earning a bachelor’s degree. You can pretty much decide upon any degree major that you would like to that is within the realm of life science. Some of the most ideal fields that you can enter into are biology, ecology, evolutionary biology and zoology. Some of the life science degree programs available out there may even allow you to specialize is specific areas of animal studies that may play a part later in what position you may be able to get in a zoo. Some of the areas of specialization to look out for are herpetology, aquatic biology and animal behavior.

Step 2: Gain Some Zoo Keeping Experience

This is possibly one of the most enjoyable steps out of every job we have written about thus far. Most zoos require that their zookeepers have first-hand knowledge of how to handle animals. A lot of zookeepers begin the process of becoming employed in a zoo by volunteering their time or working as an unpaid intern. The more time that you spend in a zoo setting , the more you will learn and be able to move to different departments. This is a good time to get your name out to the supervisors in the zoo and gain some positive reference that you can then use to propel yourself into receiving a paid internship.

Paid internships are most often filled by future zookeepers that are still completing their degrees or are fresh out of college. Completing a paid internship can also be a requirement for employment, so keep that in mind when selecting the school you’d like to attend or the zoo you’d like to apply to.

Step 3: Work Your Way Up the Ladder

Once you have secured a spot as a zookeeper, you may want to continue working up the chain to lead keeper or even curator of the zoo. This step definitely takes a lot of time and you will have to have a metric ton of experience, but it is something to work towards. You can score a bigger paycheck, more responsibility and a work schedule that may better suit your life style. Those are some perks that are worth looking forward to.

What Does a Zookeeper Do?

You’d probably like us to tell you what your duties will be when you are working as a zookeeper and we are happy to oblige you. Let’s take a look at the daily duties that you will have to complete once you are a fully employed zookeeper!

  • Distribute food and water to all of the animals that are in your care. Feeding the animals may entail preparing some pretty gross things for the animals to eat, so be prepared to test the endurance of your gag reflex
  • Clean the habitats of the animals as well as any equipment that is used in the process of caring for them
  • Closely monitor all of the animals that are in your care and pay close attention to their dietary habits, physical condition and behaviors. Many zoos like this information to be recorded for reference should anything happen to the animal
  • Check animals over thoroughly to make sure that there aren’t any signs of illness or injury. This may be difficult if you are the keeper of lions of bears, so make sure that you have a backup to help you if you need it. We don’t want you to get eaten or anything!
  • Engage the animals in activities that exercise them and get them moving around their habitats so that zoo goers can see them in action
  • Plan the diets of the animals to ensure that they are getting all the necessary nutrients to remain healthy and live a long life in captivity
  • Educate the public about the animals that are in your care and answer any questions that they may have
  • Help raise baby animals and teach them the skills that are needed for reintroduction to the wild if that is possible

Special Skills Needed to Become a Zookeeper

We want you to be the best little zookeeper you can be, so we’ve asked a couple of our friends that are in the keeper business for some advice. They were able to provide us with a list of some important qualities to have as a zookeeper. Here is what they said:

  • Compassion: It’s super important for zookeepers to have compassion when dealing with animals. This will allow you to treat all of the animals that you are working with kindly and will help to keep your patience intact when one of your critters nips you.
  • Customer service skills: A big part of zoo keeping is working with guests at the zoo and having decent customer service skills will definitely make your life easier. Having these skills will also help to make each guests experience enjoyable and keep them coming back, which will make the zoo more money and provide you with job security.
  • Detail Oriented: Working with animals actually requires you to follow a lot of precise instructions, keep animals on strict diets, maintain records, monitor animal changes and properly care for animals. You’ll have to pay close attention to what you are supposed to do in order to keep yourself and the animals safe.
  • Patience: We already touched on having patience briefly, but we feel that it warrants another mention. The animals that you will be working with are not like dogs or other trained animals that respond to commands. You will probably experience many occasions where the animal under your care completely ignores your presence which can be frustrating and even scary at times.
  • Physical Stamina: Being a zookeeper is not a job for those that are not in good physical shape. There is a lot of lifting, bending, crawling and walking involved.
  • Problem Solving Skills: There will be times that the animals in your care seem like they need some additional care, but you may not be sure what it is. This is where problem solving comes in. You may need to come up with different approaches to things to correct a situation and if you are good at problem solving you’ll have an ace in your pocket.

Zookeeper Salary

Let’s hop right along to find out how much you are going to earn as a zookeeper! The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median annual wage for zookeepers is somewhere around $19,690. Zookeepers that are new to the field or those that are possibly interns still may earn up to $16,490 a year while those that are more experience are said to bring in $32,500 a year.

Of course there will be different cities, states and types of zoos out there that may impact the amount you earn. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has some great graphs that highlight some of these areas and shed some light on the situation. Head on over to the website by clicking here to take a look!

Schools for Future Zookeepers

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Why Being a Zookeeper is Awesome

We feel like this section may be a given and that you might be snickering at us for even adding it. Snicker away because we are going to tell you why being a zookeeper is awesome anyway, so there!

When you work in a zoo you get to meet and work with some of the most interesting people you can imagine. You get to work with fellow zookeepers that have a wide variety of different educational backgrounds and experience with animals. The guests at the zoo also provide an interesting pool to fish from if you are looking for some interesting personal experiences. It’s a pretty cool perk to get to work with neat people all the time. You probably won’t experience many dull moments or have many bad days.

You’ll Make a Difference

The zoos of today are designed to educate people about animals and their environments as well as aid in repopulating species and scientific research. Zoos are no longer places to see animals displayed in cages like a collection of trophies. Great care is taken to ensure that the animals are healthy, well taken care of and thriving in as natural a setting as possible.

Every day that you go to work, you are making a difference. You are helping the animals under your care to have a better life, thrive and in turn providing a breeding ground for knowledge to grow and flourish. You have the opportunity to share knowledge and information with the public that will hopefully impact the animal kingdom in a positive light.

You Learn a Ton

Working as a zookeeper is a great way to always keep your brain buzzing and receiving new information. There will always be things that you don’t know about and animals that you are unfamiliar with that are encountered regularly. You will also be surrounded by a lot of people that will be able to contribute to your knowledge base and that is something that is particularly awesome if you ask us.

Awesome Work Environment

There aren’t many jobs that you can have that allow you to work with such a wide net of people that are passionate about the same things. Working in a zoo is exactly the place to find people that are like minded and that you can share the awesome experience of working with animals with. You can make lifelong friends that you already have a built in connection with.

You Get to Work With Animals

This is definitely the best and most awesome part of working as a zookeeper. Your days are filled with working around animals. Think about how amazing it will be to witness animal behaviors and care for baby animals. You’ll be able to work with endangered species and help them to thrive with the hopes of increasing the population. Can you believe this is a job that actually pays you?! We would totally be down to work as a zookeeper for me!

Pop Quiz Time!

You didn’t think we were going to let you off that easy do you? Take this fun little quiz that we found to see if you’d be a good zookeeper. It’s really fun and you’ll definitely get a chuckle out of some of the questions. Click here to hop on over to the “You Think” website to take the quiz! Feel free to let us know how you did in the comments section!

Zookeepers to Know About

Zoo keeping is not a glamorous profession by any means and you’re not likely to gain a lot of notoriety while you clean up animal habitats. There are a few zookeepers that have garnered a bit of attention of the years and we’d like to tell you about them now.

Jack Hanna

Most of us think of Jack Hanna when we think of zoo keeping. Jack has really made a name for himself in mainstream media with his dedication to animal preservation and environmental protection. He first got his start working in a zoo in Sanford, Florida in 1973. During his time working with animals, Jack has worked as a curator of many zoos during his career. Jack frequently makes the rounds on talk shows to educate viewers about different animals and how we can keep them safe and thriving.

Julie Scardina

Zookeeper, Julie Scardina has been working with animals since she graduated for San Diego University and attending a program at Moorpark College in Exotic Animal Training. Julie has tons of experience working with animals like orcas, dolphins, sea lions and many others. She is now the Animal Ambassador and Corporate Curator for SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove. Many of you may have seen her during one of her many appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno or on many of Jack Hanna’s shows.

Benjamin Mee

Perhaps the most interested zookeeper and curator on our list today is Benjamin Mee. You see, Ben didn’t start out as a zookeeper at all. In fact he was a British writer that rescued a failing zoo after the death of his father in 2005. He moved his wife, children, mother and brother out to a rundown zoo on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. Ben had taken on a pretty heavy load and often wondered how and why he got himself into the mess of reviving a zoo.

One day a jaguar escaped his habitat and it was in that moment that Ben knew that it wasn’t about money, but about the lives of the animals that needed a safe haven that matters the most. After this epiphany, Ben got some good momentum behind him and started to really turn things around at the zoo. All of his hard work has really paid off too and the Dartmoor Zoological Park is alive and thriving.

Hollywood even came knocking upon hearing Ben’s story. There was a movie made in 2012 called “We Bought a Zoo”. The movie starred Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson and was rather successful.

Bindi Irwin

There’s a good reason that this name sounds familiar. Bindi Irwin is the daughter of the late wildlife expert Steve Irwin. Bindi is only 16 years old, but she has not missed a beat since her father’s passing in 2006. She, her mother Terry (who is also a well know zookeeper) and little brother Robert have carried on the work that was started by Steve.

Bindi still works as a zookeeper at the Australia Zoo along with her other pursuits in the wildlife world. She has always said that she wanted to be just like her Dad and pass on the love of animals to those around her. She seems to be doing a pretty great job so far and since she is only 16 years old, we expect to see a lot more from her.

Just Click Play!

Hey, guys! Take a few minutes…or 5 minutes and 32 seconds to be precise – to watch this video. This little ditty that we found during our YouTube search is perfect for those that want to see what the daily job for a zookeeper is like. So, sit back and relax for a few while you give it a look see!

Final Grade

You knew this section was coming, so sit back and pay close attention here. We always like to give you our final thoughts on the careers that we tell you about and becoming a zookeeper is no exception. Here they are, kids – our final grades about working as a zookeeper!

Degree vs. Debt: B-

We covered in our career section, the salary isn’t super high and it may make it a little tight when it is time to pay off those student loans. Luckily, you only have to have a 4 year degree though and your debt shouldn’t be super high. Plus, all it will take is one look into the face of a baby lion cub that you just watched join the animal kingdom and any worries about loan payments will be forgotten.

Difficulty of Degree: B

There will be math and science that are required for the degrees that are required to become zookeepers, but there isn’t anything too difficult to master. The most important thing to do while you are working on your degree is study hard. If you really stick your nose in your book then you should be just fine and smarter by the time you are done.

Happiness Quotient: A+

This is a no brainer, right?! Working with animals daily is beyond awesome. Who cares if you have to side step animal poo all day and go home smelling like a barn! You are able to follow your passion for animals and little by little make a difference in the animal world. Heck, we are happy just writing about how to become a zookeeper. We’d like explode into little balloon animals if we were actually able to work in the field.

Job Outlook: B+

We like what we see on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website in terms of the expected job growth for zookeepers. The field is expected to experience a job growth of 15% from 2012 to 2022. This is a pretty sweet spot for this career to be in as it is a bit faster than average, which means that there should be some nice job opportunities out there.

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Sources and Recommended Reading

Of course we will share our sources with you, but only if you share stories about cute baby monkeys with us when you are a fully fledged zookeeper! We’re totally fine with forging a relationship where the currency is sources for zoo details. We know that you are just starting out and won’t have any bright eyed baby monkey pictures for us yet, so we will take an IOU and give you some sources to get started on good faith.


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