The job description for zookeepers is often times romanticized when we watch movies like We bought a zoo. The truth of the matter is that zoo keeping is hard work, but it is also one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do, that is if you love animals. So what exactly are you signing up for when you want to become a zookeeper?
What are the key duties of zookeeper?
At the heart of the job description for zookeepers lies the caretaking of animals. But when you think about the wellbeing of an animal, it doesn’t mean that you keep the animal fed. It also does not mean that you will be working with healthy animals the whole time. The job description of zookeepers include the following:
- Keeping the animals fed and maintaining a healthy diet.
- Ensuring that the animals get regular exercise.
- Giving regular baths for the animals.
- Making sure that their enclosures are always clean and that the animals have enough drinking water.
- Following strict feeding schedules and instructions for each individual animal.
- Training the animals and providing them with enough entertainment.
- Monitoring the health and wellbeing of the animals and reporting any illness or injuries to the veterinarians.
- Monitoring animals’ behavioral changes and eating habits.
What qualifications do you need?
Zookeepers aren’t fully fledged veterinarians. However, they are the first line of defense when it comes to the care of the zoo animals. The job description for zookeepers does not include medical examinations and operations which means that they do not need to be highly qualified. In fact, they need very little formal education, but a relevant bachelor’s degree would go a long way in ensuring you get the position. Aspiring zookeepers can look at obtaining a bachelors in Biology, Zoology or Animal Sciences.
Zookeepers’ formal training include animal behavior sciences, genetics, nutrition, physiology, and reproduction, as well as microbiology. These qualifications and skills will enable them to work effectively with the animals.
Most of the experience and training that zookeepers receive, however, is on the job. It is a very hands-on vocation. The job description for zookeepers rarely involves too much time spent in the office. Instead, they are required to be with the animals constantly, making notes and observations on-the-go.
What do the job prospects look like?
At present, the competition is fierce, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the animal care profession should see a mild 11 % growth within the next six years. However, these numbers include all animal care and service workers in the field. Those numbers don’t necessarily spark enthusiasm in the industry for zookeepers.
What salary are we looking at?
A study estimated a zookeeper’s salary to be between $18 074 – $39 725 in 2016. Their average salary has increased over the years, but it is still a relatively average salary. The size and grandeur of the zoo will obviously also play a role in the salary, hence the big margin of average salaries per year. The skill and the experience of the zookeeper will also have an effect on their salary.
Do you have to look after the whole zoo?
A quality zoo is too big for one zookeeper to keep an eye on, for this very reason many zookeepers will tend to specialize in certain animal groups like birds, big cats, large mammals like elephants and also marine life. Being a specialist in an area enables them to help with the reproductive process and also to quickly assess whether an animal is acting up.
The job description of zookeepers often also involve some education. Many zookeepers are required to speak to the public regarding their animals. They often speak about conservation and educate the public with live animals.
Is this really what you want to do?
Let’s face it, when you decide to become a zookeeper, you are not doing it for the money. You have to have a passion for animals and be prepared to work hard and long hours. The conditions aren’t always ideal and sometimes it can also be heartbreaking when an animal dies. But the job satisfaction is unparalleled seeing that the job description for zookeepers requires them to develop relationships with the animals.