How to Become a Zoo Caretaker: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a zoo caretaker. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in zookeeping.

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Should I Become a Zoo Caretaker?

Zoo caretakers, or zookeepers, maintain the well-being of animals in zoological parks by performing a number of tasks, such as feeding, watering, and training animals, as well as cleaning and maintaining their habitats. Zookeepers work with animals on a daily basis and are in charge of observing behavior and monitoring for any signs of illness or disease. In addition, zoo caretakers may perform feeding demonstrations or give short lectures to visitors to help teach the public about the animals residing in the zoo. Lifting of heavy containers may be involved, and a certain amount of danger exists when working with wild animals.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree may be required
Degree Fields Zoology, biology or related field
Experience Each zoo will have their own expectations, but most want applicants to have a strong background in animal caretaking through work or volunteer experience
Key Skills Compassion and patience, stamina and physical strength, detail-oriented, proficiency with Microsoft Office programs
Additional Requirements Zoos may also require workers to hold a valid drivers license with a clean driving record in addition to certification in CPR/first aid
Salary $29,897 (2016 median)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) , San Diego Zoo, American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK),

Steps to Become a Zoo Caretaker

Step 1: Gain Experience Working with Animals

Before becoming a professional zoo caretaker, gaining experience working with animals is essential. In addition to being the best way to determine whether this unique and often challenging career is the right fit, relevant work experience is usually a requirement of any caretaker position.

Additionally, zoos typically offer volunteer opportunities for students and animal enthusiasts seeking hands-on experience working with animals. Volunteer opportunities are usually part-time and have flexible schedules.

Step 2: Earn a College Degree

Jobs in zoos are highly competitive due to the large number of applicants applying compared to the few positions available. Candidates with a formal education may have better odds of obtaining one of those sought after positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that many zookeepers complete either 2- or 4-year degree programs, which are available in biological sciences, zoology, animal husbandry, and other related areas. Some schools also offer shorter certificate and associate's degree programs in exotic animals and zookeeping, which may be helpful for those who have prior experience working in a zoo environment.

Additionally, aspiring zookeepers could participate in an internship. Internships, while generally unpaid, are usually full-time for the duration of the internship and provide the best chance to learn the everyday workings of a zoo operation. Internships are available for undergraduate students or recent college graduates.

Working a part-time job with animals can provide aspiring zookeepers with relevant work experience for their resume. Prospective zoo caretakers may find work at veterinary offices, animal rescue organizations, and wildlife rehabilitation centers.

Step 3: Obtain a Valid Driver's License and CPR Certification

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, most positions require caretakers to maintain a valid driver's license and a clean driving record. Additionally, since zookeeping is not without its risks, becoming certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be required for a position working with undomesticated animals.

Step 4: Maintain Physical Fitness

Most zookeeping positions are physically demanding and require caretakers who can lift, carry and move 30-100 pounds, as well as climb, stoop, and stand for long periods of time. Good vision and hearing are also an important as caretakers are often required to be aware of an animal's position during feedings and habitat cleanings, as well as perform visual assessments of an animal's health.

Step 5: Join a Professional Organization

Joining a professional organization, like the American Association of Zookeepers, provides career resources and opportunities to network with other professionals in the field. Zookeepers can attend conferences and workshops to stay up-to-date on current topics and trends in the industry, which may also provide new techniques and skills that can be applied on the job.

Zookeepers generally need an associate or bachelor's degree in zoology, biology, or a related field. Experience in the field is essential, and a driver's license and clean driving record as well as CPR experience may be required.

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