How to Become a Zookeeper
Growth Trends for Related Jobs
Help Animals in Your Community
If you are passionate about animals and enjoy science, a career as a zookeeper could be meaningful and rewarding. Zookeepers care for animals, often working with animals who are endangered and educating the public about them. Hours can be long when animals are unwell, so reliable child care is a must. Steady income and benefits are a plus, and a zoo membership could make your children feel as if they are part of what you do.
Zookeepers work on teams with other professionals to care for animals and their enclosures. They frequently wear special equipment, attend meetings and work on tight schedules during the day as they prepare animal diets, feed animals, clean enclosures, and observe animal behavior. They also prepare and present educational material to the public, interact with zoo guests and handle animal and veterinary emergencies. Animal training and groundskeeping are often part of the responsibilities, as well as ordering and maintaining supplies. Zookeepers sometimes keep long hours during animal emergencies, births or when new animals are joining the zoo. Reliable child care or a work environment that's friendly to children help make these hours compatible with family life.
Zookeepers are trained zoologists who choose to work in a zoo setting instead of in an academic environment. Entry-level positions are sometimes available with a bachelor's degree in zoology or a related field, but most employers prefer candidates who hold a master's or doctoral-level degree in the field, with several years of experience working with animals. Zookeepers should be proficient in computer skills, as well as have the ability to drive ATVs, golf carts, boats and operate other special machinery at the zoo. Solid outdoor skills are a bonus, especially in large zoological parks where outdoor work is required in all weather conditions.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists earn a median income of $60,520 per year, which means that half earn more than this, while the other half earns less. The top 10 percent earns more than $98,540, while the bottom 10 percent earns less than $39,150. Those employed by the federal government earn the highest median salary, at $75,040 per year.
Zookeepers typically work in public or private zoological parks, ranging in size from small to very large. Job duties require time in the office, labs, enclosures and outdoors in all weather conditions, ranging from hot to cold, dry to wet. Sometimes, travel is required to other zoos, conferences or to conduct work with animals in the field. Work can be physically demanding, requiring lifting, bending and heavy cleaning. Unlike other zoological positions, zookeepers often have a good amount of contact with other people and visitors to the zoo, so isolation is not as big an issue as it is in other jobs within the field. Emotional management and self-care skills make it easier to work with endangered species and handle the life and death cycle of animals you may become emotionally attached to.
Years of Experience
Zoology is often a labor of passion more than a lucrative career, but salaries are stable and typically increase over time, if the zoo's budget allows. One set of salary ranges for zoologists looks like this:
- 1‒2 Years: $61,299‒$68,742
- 3‒4 Years: $62,825‒$70,268
- 5‒6 Years: $65,497 ‒$73,109
- 7‒9 Years: $68,360‒$76,798
- 10 or More Years: $70,650‒$79,996
Job Growth Trend
Job opportunities for zoologists are expected to grow by 8 percent over the next decade, which is about as fast as in other industries. Competition for jobs is steep, so set yourself apart with strong internships and volunteer work in the field during school and after graduation. Be willing to take lower-level positions at zoological parks or universities to make connections and become established to work your way up to the kind of position you are most hoping for.
Anne Kinsey is an entrepreneur and business pioneer, who has ranked in the top 1% of the direct sales industry, growing a large team and earning the title of Senior Team Manager during her time with Jamberry. She is the nonprofit founder and executive director of Love Powered Life, as well as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and freelance writer who has written for publications like Working Mother, the San Francisco Chronicle, Bizfluent, the Houston Chronicle and Our Everyday Life. Anne works from her home office in rural North Carolina, where she resides with her husband and three children.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/GettyImages