How do I become an animal keeper?
There is no single way to become a keeper, but the more education and hands-on experience you have, the better.
Education– While you’re in school, learn as much as you can in your science classes. In college, choose a degree program in animal-related fields like biology, zoology, botany, ecology, conservation science, or animal behavior. Take as many different courses in those areas as you can, and graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in your chosen field. (Here’s a BIG hint: the competition for jobs caring for animals is so strong that you really HAVE to have a college degree these days to be considered.)
Hands-on Experience– Find opportunities to work with animals. Some potential keepers have volunteered at our department of Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES), assisting CRES scientists and technicians. Sometimes work-study opportunities are available for college students.
What are some other ways to gain animal experience?
Some places to look for volunteer jobs or internships might be:
• Veterinary offices
• Animal training classes (does your dog need obedience training?)
• Local Humane Society
• Local Park Service
• Wildlife rehabilitation centers (like for wolves, bears, big cats, birds of prey, and even bats)
• Animal shelters
• Farms (for domestic animals, or even ostrich, llama, or butterfly farms)
• Pet breeders (those that breed specific kinds of dogs, cats, or horses)
• Horse stables and boarding facilities
• 4-H Clubs
The conservation and scientific programs in zoos and aquariums have become highly technical and specialized. Although practical experience with animals may sometimes be substituted for academic training, most entry-level keeper positions now require a four-year college degree. Training in animal science, zoology, marine biology, conservation biology, wildlife management, and animal behavior is preferred. Curatorial, research, and conservation positions typically require advanced academic degrees.
Students wishing to pursue animal-related careers are encouraged to carefully review the curriculum of the schools they wish to attend, as some programs focus more on a zoological application than others. Students who are interested in the business side of zoo and aquarium operations should concentrate on skills related to a particular area of expertise, such as accounting, public relations, marketing, personnel management, etc. Whatever your career goal, guidance counselors can offer assistance in determining the most appropriate course of study.
So You Want to be a Zookeeper?
A lot of zoos, and wildlife sanctuaries, offer camps and/or teen volunteer opportunities. It would be a good idea for her to get a much experience working with animals, if possible at a zoo, as she can. There is a lot of competition for this field of work, and a lot of times experience if more important than the degree. Plus, volunteering at a zoo might give her an idea if this is the line of work she wants to pursue.
some degrees she might want to look into are:
Zoology, Mammalogy, or other sub field of zoology
Animal/Exotic/Wildlife Management and/or Training
Wildlife/Exotic/Zoo (biology, care, ecology, conservation, education, etc)