Zoos and aquariums have curators to oversee care for their animals. While smaller zoos might have one curator, larger zoos have several in charge of different groups of animals, such as raptors, day exhibits or night exhibits. Although the position may seem ideal for someone who likes animals, animal curators have to make some tough decisions, including when to sell or trade animals. Being a curator is a highly competitive position, as there are few spots available.
At a minimum, animal curators earn a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science, biology or zoology, or a related field, such as management, health or behavior. Many animal curators earn their master’s or doctorate degrees, due to increased professionalism required and fierce competition for open positions. Some employers conditionally hire an applicant who does not have a graduate degree, if they have a wealth of experience in animal training, husbandry and management, and they agree to complete a graduate program part time within a certain period after hire.
As custodian of all the animals within her department, an animal curator acquires animals, maintains existing animal collections and creates appropriate displays. Administrative responsibilities include setting and achieving attendance targets to ensure the financial success of the zoo or aquarium, and selling, trading and acquiring new animals. Animal curators make sure visitors are satisfied and maintain the health of animals within their assigned collection. As a management professional, the animal curator oversees a large number of direct-care staffers, providing leadership and direction. They ensure all rules and procedures are followed.
Being an animal curator requires a special blend of empathy, leadership and organizational abilities. Because they deal with the public, animal curators must be customer-oriented, receptive to feedback and able to communicate clearly. There are many details to attend to when managing an animal population at a zoo or aquarium, therefore, animal curators have to be detail-oriented, independent workers who have good time management skills. They must be patient when teaching animal trainers to follow all safety rules, and they need to have problem-solving skills to handle crises as they arise.
An animal curator's annual salary depends on factors such as where they work and the size of zoo or aquarium for which they work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did their last survey of animal curators in 1998, reporting only 390 employed in the U.S. According to the website Curator Salary, the average yearly salary for animal curator as of 2012 was $44,200 with those new to the field earning an average yearly salary of $36,400. More experienced animal curators made an average salary of $52,000. In Texas, for example, a zoo animal curator earned $58,498 in 2012.