Exotic Animal Training Career Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an exotic animal trainer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and apprenticeships to find out if this is the career for you.

Exotic animal trainers work in both entertainment and scientific settings, and one path to this career includes a bachelor's degree and previous experience, like an internship. Additionally, these trainers can also work with a high school diploma and/or an apprenticeship.

Essential Information

Exotic animal trainers teach and train wild animals at animal parks and other facilities. Although not always required, many employers prefer to hire animal trainers with undergraduate degrees in biology, zoology or animal science, as well as experience working in direct contact with animals. Apprenticeship programs are available in this field.

Required Education High school diploma and on-the-job training or apprenticeship; or a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% for all animal trainers
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $26,610 for all animal trainers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Exotic animal trainers work in places where animals perform for the public, such as zoos, animal parks and aquariums. Additionally, some trainers find work in the entertainment industry, training animals as performers for television and movies.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that both nonfarm animal caretakers and animal trainers would see faster-than-average employment growth of 11% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). In 2015, the BLS reported an annual median salary of $26,610 for animal trainers, with those working in the management, scientific, and technical consulting services industry earning the highest average salaries of $139,950.

Education Requirements

Although a high school diploma or the equivalent is sufficient for some animal trainer positions, the BLS notes that employers may prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. Some programs, like a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Animal Science or B.S. in Zoology, offer courses related to exotic animal care, wildlife biology, animal behavior, wildlife conservation and genetics. Some associate's degree programs also offer courses in exotic animal care that may be transferable to a 4-year program.

Background Experience

Employers also emphasize background experience, which can be accumulated through volunteer opportunities, college internships or work-study options. Many zoos and aquariums have established volunteer and internship programs. Other experience opportunities can be found at wildlife rescue organizations, ranches, equestrian centers or veterinary hospitals.

Additional Skills

Depending on the venue, animal trainers may be expected to have strong communication skills to speak in front of large audiences. Job candidates should be physically fit in order to lift large items and training equipment. Marine parks generally require trainers to pass demanding swim tests and be certified in scuba diving.

Apprenticeship Requirements

After being hired, exotic animal trainers may go through apprenticeship work with an experienced trainer, which allows the new trainer to gain first-hand experience with animals and their habits. The training might begin with feeding or other simple procedures and progress to communicating with and training animals.

Exotic animal trainers handle, train and care for animals, and they must be physically fit, and posses strong communication skills. A bachelor's degree in zoology or animal science can be a good start for this career, as is work experience through an internship or apprenticeship. Job growth for animal trainers is predicted to be faster-than-average through 2024, and the median salary ranged from approximately $27,000 to $140,000 in 2015.

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