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Careers Working with Exotic Animals: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to work in a position working with exotic animals. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and prospects to find out if this is the career for you.

There are many career options for individuals who love exotic animals. Animal trainers may work with animals that will be in movies or provide entertainment, while veterinarians provide medical treatment for these animals. Zookeepers look after the daily care of animals in zoos.

Essential Information

Those trained in the handling and care of exotic animals can qualify for a number of professions. Career choices include a focus on a specific type of animal or general services for a range of exotic animals. The requirements vary based on an individual's particular career goals.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in animal science
Other Requirements A love for animals
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% for animal trainers
Median Salary (2015)* $26,610 annually for animal trainers

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Careers that Work with Exotic Animals

Animal Trainer

Exotic animal trainers work in a number of industries, including training animals for film, entertainment and education. These professionals can work closely with a variety of species or develop skills for a particular animal. Depending on an individuals' training, they can work with large or small aquatic, aviary, plains or woodland animals. Trainers might spend long hours performing repetitive tasks on a rewards-based system and accompany an animal if travel is required.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected job growth rate for animal trainers is 11% for the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). Animal trainers earned a median annual salary of $26,610 as of May 2015, the BLS further reports.

Veterinarian

Exotic animal veterinarians typically provide the same level of care as a regular veterinarian, but have specialized training to handle wild or exotic animals. These veterinarians might include household pets within their practice, in addition to exotic birds, reptiles and mammals. A veterinarian can work in a variety of settings, including animal hospitals, zoos, private clinics or at various on-site locations. Exotic animal veterinarians could also work in the scientific field, conducting experiments and performing research on endangered or unusual species.

Employment growth for veterinarians, which includes those that treat exotic animals, is expected to be 9% between 2014-2024, says the BLS. As of the May 2015 BLS report, the median annual salary for veterinarians is $88,490.

Zookeeper

Zookeepers keep wild and exotic animals fed, healthy and clean. They can work in a number of places, such as zoos and animal parks. Their jobs can be dirty and sometimes dangerous, and they might need to work in challenging weather conditions at times. Zookeepers need to be familiar with the history, ecology and behavior of exotic animals to be able to provide education to zoo visitors.

The BLS employment growth rate for animal care and service workers of 11% from 2014-2024 would be applicable to zookeepers. In January 2016, PayScale.com reported that the median annual salary for zookeepers was $29,897.

Requirements for Jobs Working with Exotic Animals

Educational Requirements

Several schools offer college programs that provide a foundation for jobs working with exotic animals. Some bachelor's degree programs in animal science or zoology include concentrations in exotic animal studies within the major. Students could learn about different animal behaviors, genetics, nutrition and ecology. Elective coursework might cover breeding, genetics and fundamental health issues.

Those seeking to become a veterinarian must complete a 4-year bachelor's degree program and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Some DVM programs include concentrated studies or elective coursework for health care, diseases, treatments and nutritional care for exotic animals. Exotic veterinary hospitals also offer residency programs for those interested in specializing in the discipline.

Licensure Requirements

Most veterinarians must obtain state licensure to practice medicine on domestic, farm and exotic animals. State regulations vary, though all require a DVM degree and a passing score on the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Some federal and state laws also require licensure for keeping, transporting, selling or exhibiting exotic animals. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture registers and licenses scientists who conduct experiments on several types of animals.

Most careers with exotic animals require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Individuals working with exotic animals need to be familiar with their behavior in order to work safely and effectively with them, and zookeepers need to maintain an environment suitable to the needs of each type of animal they house.

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