How to Become a Zookeeper: Work with Wildlife Every Day
Become an Australian zookeeper, and build relationships with a wide range of animals every day.
Imagine starting your workday with your favourite zoo animal ready and excited to see you – a monkey jumping on your shoulder for his morning cuddle or feeding a joey their first bottle of milk for the day. Building these trusting relationships with the animals is a zookeeper’s main priority – expect lots of hands-on time with all the wildlife!
With some volunteer experience and a certificate qualification, you can be well on your way to holding that koala or helping save endangered species.
What do zookeepers do?
Zookeepers are animal professionals who work closely with a broad range of wildlife kept in zoos for conservation or public education purposes.
No two days are the same as a zookeeper. The many types of animals you’ll care for will fill your time with a wide array of responsibilities, such as:
Furthermore, working as a zookeeper can be financially viable, especially after a few years of experience and specialisation. The average salary progression for a zookeeper is:
If you’re considering this career path, important to note that the hours can vary. Because zoos need zookeepers to work every day, sometimes you’ll need to work weekends, public holidays, early mornings or evenings. However, this also means flexibility! No strict 9-5 pm here.
To become a zookeeper, you need to build some critical skills that will allow you to care for and build relationships with your zoo animals effectively. Some of these key skills include:
To build up these skills, there are some important steps you should take.
1. Get volunteer or work experience with animals
The zoo keeping industry is a small one. This means it’s essential you get as much hands-on experience as possible. Not to mention you might make some valuable industry connections along the way.
Volunteering or working part-time as an animal carer is a great way to build your confidence and ability to read animals to gauge their needs. There are always animal volunteer roles around in workplaces such as:
Furthermore, many of Australia’s major zoos, national parks and conservation landmarks have volunteer programs for aspiring zookeepers — or people who just love to work in the outdoors and with animals.
2. Work on your fitness
Zookeeping is a physically demanding job. Most shifts will be up to 8 hours, and for most of that time, you’ll be outdoors on your feet. From lifting and carrying food, water and equipment to interacting with the animals, you’ll be sure to get your workout in every day.
To ensure health and safety standards, your physical fitness must be up to scratch. Zoos Victoria, for example, requires all applying zookeepers to pass a fitness test to gauge whether they’re capable of the physical aspects of the job.
Key fitness areas you should focus on when preparing for the job are:
3. Complete certified training
Formal prerequisites aren’t required to work as a zookeeper. But it’s highly advantageous when it comes to getting work. . The small industry size means landing work can be highly competitive. To gain an edge on your fellow applicants, you should consider getting an Animal Care Certificate.
Many of the short courses available are online, meaning you have plenty of time to get some work experience under your belt while studying. Furthermore, many of these courses offer self-paced learning. This means you can work through the study load as quickly as you’d like, as long as you finish by the maximum allocated time. Most of the courses available are around 200-300 hours of learning materials in length.
For those who really want to delve into the world of animal care and conservation, completing a Bachelor’s degree in an animal-related field could be for you.
Completing a bachelor’s degree in related fields, such as animal science, zoology, veterinary nursing, ecology or conservation biology, will see you land a more senior role more quickly.
4. Apply to your preferred Keeper Pool
Some zoos in Australia, like Zoos Victoria, require entry-level zookeepers to first be accepted into their Keeper Pool.
To improve your chances of being accepted into the Pool, you should:
Becoming a keeper pool member will give you many essential benefits to land the dream job of a full-time zookeeper, such as:
Recruitment for Keeper Pools only happens a few times a year, so be sure to keep an eye out on Zoo websites for when your next eligible intake occurs!
5. Never stop learning
Animals’ personalities can be just as varied as people. This means they can be unconditionally loving one day and antisocial another. Zookeepers have to be able to read, understand and interact with the animals no matter their temperament. Just like humans – every animal of every species is different. So, learning is essential.
New zookeepers should consider asking a senior staff member to mentor them. This will provide you with on-site support and a wealth of knowledge from someone who’s seen and done it all.
Furthermore, the learning should continue at home. Consider joining the International Society of Zoological Sciences or a local group in your state to keep up to date with new training methods, animal behaviour studies and conservation efforts.
Becoming a zookeeper doesn’t have to be a long nor tedious process — with the option to gain work experience while completing your certification. With many organisations and training programs out there waiting for you, this is the perfect year to start your career journey into zookeeping.