American Association of Zoo Keepers
“Doing that kind of work, you really get to know if you like animals. If you can somehow enjoy cleaning out their cages, then you know you genuinely love animals.”
― Jack Hanna,
Zookeeping As A Career
Zookeeper is a term used to describe an individual who cares for animals in zoological parks or aquariums. A career as a zoo keeper offers a unique opportunity in the specialized and demanding profession of maintaining captive exotic animals for conservation, research, public education and recreation.
Zoo keepers care for a diverse collection of animals from mammals and birds to reptiles and amphibians to fish and invertebrates. Some keepers become highly specialized, such as those who work in animal hospitals or who concentrate on a specific group of animals such as exotic birds, great apes, elephants or reptiles.
Important basic duties of zoo keepers include daily cleaning and maintenance of animal enclosures and proper feeding of the animals under their care. Zoo keepers may help design, build and repair animal enclosures and care for the plants in and around the exhibits. Keepers must also be excellent observers, learning habits and behaviors of both individual animals and groups. Professional zoo keepers must be able to detect subtle changes in an animal's physical or psychological condition and then react accordingly. These responsibilities should not be underestimated since they are essential in maintaining a healthy and reproductively successful animal collection.
In addition, zoo keepers will work closely with zoo managers on conservation, reproductive husbandry and research projects. This research will provide zoos with important information to help preserve rare and endangered species and learn more about species which may become threatened in the future.
Keepers serve as the first line of public relations for their institutions. Interactions with visitors help to increase the public's awareness of the important role of zoos in wildlife conservation. Keepers should be knowledgeable about the animals in their zoo, the animals' natural habitat and habits, and zoos in general. They should be friendly and professional when answering questions from visitors.
The educational requirements for an entry level zoo keeper varies but is often a college degree in zoology, biology or an animal-related field. Some animal care experience such as zoo volunteer or intern, or veterinary hospital worker is also helpful. Some colleges offer specific programs oriented towards a career in zoos. The Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida, for example, has a Teaching Zoo, while Moorpark College in California offers an Exotic Animal Training Management Program.
Zoo keeping can be a demanding job requiring dedication, commitment, and patience. Keepers should be reliable people who are willing to learn and improve their performance in a cooperative setting. Concern for their animals is essential since the animal's lives depend largely on how the keepers view their jobs. With such professional attitudes, keepers develop a sense of pride in their work and in their accomplishments and contributions.
Animal keepers must be physically able to perform the required work and be in a general state of good health. A person who is interested in zoo work should be aware of the risk of animal inflicted injury or disease. For these reasons, direct contact with animals is minimized and strictly managed.
Because zoo animals require daily care and maintenance, keepers' schedules include working weekends and holidays. Wages are often relatively low considering the training and education which is usually required. Even so, zoo keeper jobs are at a premium and some applicants may become frustrated over the initial difficulty in entering the animal care profession. The future for careers in zoo work continues to expand and is promising for both men and women.
Job advancement is also possible but more limited than in some other careers requiring a college degree. While keepers do move into management positions, many prefer to remain at the important front lines of animal care where their skills and experience have the most direct impact.
Zoo keeping offers a unique opportunity for an individual to pursue a career that is stimulating as well as demanding, and from which one may develop a deep sense of satisfaction. The personal gratification of successfully maintaining and reproducing wild animals -- especially rare or endangered species -- can be highly rewarding. Zoo keepers must devote considerable time and effort in order to establish a healthy, well-adjusted animal collection. Anyone who is willing to make this sort of commitment should seriously consider a career as a professional zoo keeper.
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Reprinted from AAZK INC.
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