How do you become someone who works with animals in a zoo?
I'm mostly interested in mammals. What would the job be if you designed habitats, worked directly with the animals, and created a more safe and natural environment for the animals? Would it be a zoologist, caretaker, what? What would you study in college? What would be a good path to take? Expand. Only guidelines: I want to work with animals preferably in a zoo. Give me options and paths and tips and hints.
Asked By: Tavetta - 9/15/2009
The most important thing for becoming a zookeeper is to gain experience with animals. Most zoos are more interested in experience than in qualifications - I used to be a zookeeper and got the job without any qualifications other than G.C.S.E.s. Having higher qualifications is no guarantee of getting the job (my boss told me he's had people come in with degrees who didn't know which end an elephant craps out of!), and not having them is no guarantee you won't get the job. (However, bear in mind that I am in the UK - if you are elsewhere, the requirements may be different where you are). Volunteering at a zoo or animal sanctuary is a good way of getting experience - many zoos take on volunteers, and it's a good way of getting your foot in the door, so to speak, at the particular zoo you're interested in working at. You won't get paid, though, of course. Other things that are considered good experience with animals are working on farms and in dog kennels.
You also need to be able to work hard, not mind getting dirty (and I mean REALLY dirty!), and deal with people, in the shape of the public - this often requires a good deal of patience, as you will be asked the same question literally hundreds of times every day, and must always be polite however rude people are to you and however busy, tired and frustrated you are. Depending on which animals you're looking after, some degree of public speaking may also be involved - you might have to do a talk whilst feeding your animals, for example.
A zookeeper's pay is generally quite poor - I earned minimum wage, which at the time was about £10,000 per year (this may be a little different where you are, but it is not a highly-paid job anywhere). You cannot afford to buy or rent a place of your own on this sort of salary - you have to share with house-mates or a partner. Many people want to work with animals, so they don't need to tempt workers with high pay. This is one reason why people with degrees tend not to want to be zookeepers - having spent years studying, they don't want a mininum-wage or at least low-paid job. The hours are long and you may not be paid for any overtime worked - in the zoo I worked at, you were paid only between 8am and 5pm, even if you arrived at 6.30am and didn't leave til 7pm. You are also required to work weekends and public holidays without additional pay, and the most time off you'll ever have is 2 days at a time. Animals need feeding and their enclosures cleaning every day, whether it's Christmas, your birthday, a bank holiday or whatever. It is definitely not a job you do for the money, or if you like taking long holidays or socialising at weekends and so on.
I must add that TV. shows about zoos paint a very unrealistic picture of what the job of being a zookeeper entails, making it appear that things like hand-rearing baby animals and knocking animals out for medical procedures happen every day. In reality, these things happen only rarely. The work is physically very hard, involving heavy lifting and so on, and you must work outdoors in all seasons and weathers. There is often little interaction with the animals you care for - the majority of the job is cleaning (picking up faeces, sweeping up straw, window cleaning, etc.). You also usually do not have a choice as to which animals you work with - most zoos will simply take you on as a keeper and place you where you are needed, though you can request to work with certain animals if and when a position with them becomes available.
Basically, whether or not being a zookeeper is a 'good' job depends on your personal opinion. It is not well-paid, and it's not for you if you don't like hard physical labour or getting covered in unpleasant substances like faeces and urine, but if you love animals and care about conserving them, and aren't worried about low pay, getting dirty or not having much of a social life, it can be very rewarding.
Answered By: Leolupus - 9/16/2009