Advice for Aspiring Zookeepers
There are several ways to get into the animal care field. In fact, most keepers I know all seem to have their own unique story on how they got to where they are in their career. In other words, your path is your path, it may or may not follow the ways of others. But hopefully the information you are about to read will help you along the way. So, with out further delay, here is what I know....
When it comes to specific education, most facilities require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in biology, zoology, ecology or something similar. Worth mentioning, I know several keepers that have a bachelor’s degree in Animal Behavior, so if that strikes your interest it can also be a good option.
What if you already have a bachelor's degree in something else?
Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not eligible. It depends on the requirements of the facility where you are applying and the other animal experience you may already have.
So let's talk about experience... In addition to the degree, you will need animal care experience. And that can be hard to get sometimes. This is because most places want you to have experience before working with animals. Which usually means you feel like the world is telling you, to be able to get the experience you need, you need the experience first. Yes, you read that right. It's a conundrum for most of us when starting out, to say the least. I highly recommend volunteering at a local zoo or wildlife rehabilitation center, if at all possible. Other great options are volunteering at a veterinary hospital, horse boarding facility or something similar. It is not easy, it is hard work and you won't get paid. But it's a start in the right direction and you get that much needed experience.
Of course this leads to, how much experience do you need? Honestly, the more the better. But really it will depend on the requirements of the place you are applying to. Your best bet is to start looking at job postings from the places you'd want to work for in the future. Use the requirements in the job postings as a guide to what you need to do to become a good candidate for future positions.
There are some college level programs you can also look into that offer education and experience. They do not offer a bachelors degree, but the classes are college level and you gain hands-on experience. In California there is Moorpark College’s Exotic Animal Training & Management program. It’s a 2 year program and although you don’t get a bachelor’s degree, you get a certificate of graduation and a lot of great experience. The other school is in Florida at Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. I do not know as much about this program, but have heard very good things. I highly encourage you to research both programs to see if either one is for you.
Most important, have patience. It is a competitive field and as with most careers now, there are more people wanting the job than there are jobs. Constantly be preparing yourself, learn more, gain more experience and keep applying. (I applied 6 times at the San Diego Zoo before I even got an interview and even then I didn't get that job. I applied again and finally landed a part-time keeper spot. So have patience, and be persistent.)
If you have more questions you can always reach me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Or leave comment here.
EDIT/UPDATE 07/18/2018 - I have posted a video on my YouTube channel that covers this topic too,.
Click here--> How To Become A Zookeeper
Photo Credit: Free image from WIX web gallery.