So, you want to become a zookeeper? Zoo Keeper jobs are some of the most rewarding careers in the world. From drawing blood from the tail of an endangered tiger to taking measurements of a newborn giraffe so you can share the information with conservation groups in Africa, these are just a few of the fantastic opportunities you can have if you become a zookeeper.
Zookeeper jobs provide the opportunity to connect with animals in a way that most people can only dream of. They also allow you to inspire the general public to participate in conservation efforts for endangered species.
In this blog, we’re going to share some tips for getting employed at a zoo, as well as advice to follow once employed—we’ll also share what it’s like to be a zookeeper at Tanganyika Wildlife Park!
How To Become a Zookeeper
A zookeeper is responsible for the daily husbandry of the animals in the zoo. This includes:
- Providing food and clean water for the animals
- Monitoring the animals’ health and well-being
- Keeping clear and researchable records
- Cleaning and maintaining the animals’ living environments
- Administering medications and treatments as prescribed by veterinarians
- Training and interacting with the animals to stimulate their mental and physical development
- Working cohesively in a team with others
- Conducting educational presentations for visitors and guests
- Participating in breeding programs to help maintain genetic diversity in the animal population
- Assisting with research projects related to the animals in the zoo
- Providing enriching experiences to enhance the animals’ welfare
- Monitoring social dynamics of individuals
Depending on your organization or facility you may also have the opportunity to contribute to social media and marketing efforts by appearing in video and photo content. Zookeeper jobs often require collaboration with other institutions on breeding and care and even working with conservation organizations in situ. You can also hear about what being a zookeeper is like by watching these YouTube videos about zookeepers.
Regarding schooling, there are several options if you want to become a zookeeper. One of the best options is to attend America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College. With a zoo on campus, this program combines hands-on animal care experience with classroom instruction.
Students at America’s Teaching Zoo care for the animals at the zoo, run the zoo, and perform in shows. They also take animal ethics and behavior classes and often leave college secure with zookeeper jobs. Other options for hands-on experience include Santa Fe City College and Friends University, which offer programs in which students can take classes while also caring for the animals.
Alternatively, individuals interested in becoming zookeepers may pursue a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in a related field, such as biology or zoology. After or during your studies, you will need to gain additional hands-on experience with exotic animals through internships or volunteering at zoos or other animal care facilities. This can provide valuable experience and help individuals build their resumes as they work towards full-time zoo keeper jobs.
If you have the appropriate schooling and experience caring for exotic animals in a zoo setting, you have what it takes to apply to become a zookeeper. However, it is a competitive field, and it may require the willingness to move out of your home state to secure your first zookeeper job.
There are excellent resources for what you need to apply for and get a zoo keeper job, and an extensive review can be found here. Of course, when applying, always have a resume that showcases your education and past animal care experience, if any.
Become a zookeeper at Tanganyika by checking our job board now!
5 Tips for Excelling at Zookeeper Jobs
Zookeeper jobs can be both rewarding and challenging as you work with various animals and contribute to their care and well-being. However, it’s essential to be well-prepared and knowledgeable to excel in this field. In this section, we will share some tips we developed as keepers and hiring managers to help you succeed as a zookeeper. Whether you’re just starting in your zookeeper career or you’re an experienced professional looking to improve your skills, these tips will be valuable to you.
1. Know your learning style
To become a zookeeper, it is important to understand your learning style and how you can best absorb information and gain hands-on experience. Zookeepers may use many different learning styles to absorb and retain information. Some common learning styles include visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing.
- Visual learners learn best through visual aids such as diagrams, charts, and videos. They may benefit from using carrying a pocket notebook or creating thought maps to help them visualize and understand as they learn on the job. Many keepers have whiteboards in their area for this purpose.
- Auditory learners tend to learn best through listening and speaking. They may benefit from listening to podcasts, online videos, or participating in discussions to learn new material. If you are zookeeper you can ask your teammates and supervisors to spend a little extra time discussing and talking about what you are doing and learning.
- Kinesthetic learners tend to learn best through hands-on, physical experiences. They may benefit from hands-on tasks or role play to learn new concepts. Lunkily this is the most common type of training available to zookeepers, but that can make it hard for the other learning styles.
- Reading/writing learners tend to learn best through reading and writing. They may benefit from taking notes and writing summaries to help them understand their new routines. Some zookeepers find journals or end of day email updates helpful when they are learning new routines and areas.
To determine your learning style, try various techniques and see which ones work best for you. Some people may find that they use a combination of learning styles, while others may have a strong preference for one specific style. It can also be helpful to ask friends, family, or co-workers for their observations and insights on how you learn best.
2. Build a networking circle
Building a networking circle or a “tribe” is an important aspect of a successful zoo keeper job. While it is important to have strong relationships with your coworkers and friends within the zoo, seeking out connections with people outside your immediate work environment is also beneficial. This can provide valuable perspective and expose you to new ideas and opportunities.
One way to build a networking circle is to attend industry conferences and events. These events bring together professionals from all corners of the zoological industry and provide a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about new trends and best practices. You can also join professional organizations or join online communities related to zoo keeping jobs and animal care. These groups can provide a platform for networking and learning from others in the field.
It is also important to remember that building a strong network takes time and effort. Make an effort to reach out to others and build relationships through regular communication and collaboration. Remember that networking is a two-way street, so be willing to offer your insights and expertise as well.
3. Develop your communication skills
Effective communication is an important skill for most zookeeper jobs. As a zookeeper, you must be able to communicate effectively with a wide range of people: your coworkers, supervisors, and guests to the zoo. Good communication skills can help you work better as a team, share important information, take better care of your animals, and build positive relationships with others.
There are a few strategies you can try to get good at communicating as a zookeeper. First, focus on your listening skills. This means paying attention to what is being said, asking questions, seeking to understand, and showing interest in what the other person has to say. Being a good listener can help you better understand your teammates’ needs and perspectives and can also help you build trust and credibility.
Second, be clear and concise in your communication. Your leadership has a lot of information coming at them. Learning to use simple, direct language and avoid jargon or complicated technical terms. It’s important to know what information needs to be shared and not be overly emotional when communicating. Stick to the facts, identify observable things, and if you are going to make inferences, be open-minded to others’ conclusions as well.
Finally, consider taking a course or workshop on effective communication. There are multiple resources available that can help you improve your communication skills, including online courses and in-person workshops.
An example of a free course is “Be A Better Keeper,” which walks you through how to gain trust and respect in zoo jobs. By investing in your communication skills, you can become a more effective zookeeper and better serve the needs of the animals in your care.
4. Become resilient
Tenure in zoo keeper jobs is often relatively short, with many keepers leaving after just 1-2 years on the job. This high turnover can be problematic for several reasons. For one, it can be disruptive for the animals in the zoo, as they may have to adjust to a new caretaker every few years.
This can be especially challenging for animals that form strong bonds with their keepers. In addition, high turnover can be a hardship for the zoo, as they must constantly train and onboard new employees. This means instead of allocating funds toward higher wages and animal care. They must keep diverting them toward hiring and training.
A few key factors contribute to the high turnover rate in zoo keeper jobs. One reason is that many zoo keepers are new to the workforce and may not have the skills or experience to weather the challenges of the job.
Zookeeping can be physically and emotionally demanding, and it is important to have strong coping mechanisms in place to handle the stresses of the job. It is also important to build emotional resilience, which can help you take care of yourself and maintain good mental health while on the job. Many zoo jobs are now providing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to support zookeepers in this.
Showing you can weather the storm and stay at a job even when the grass looks greener on the other side can help you build trust with your employees. Additionally, having a work history on your resume longer than two years (even at a non-zoo job) will put you ahead of the competition and make you a desirable candidate for zookeeper jobs.
5. Get really good at budgeting
If you want to become a zoo keeper it is important to develop strong budgeting skills. The average zookeeper’s salary is only around $32,000/year and can vary greatly depending on the location and size of the zoo, as well as the level of experience of the individual. However, zookeeper salaries are generally low, especially when compared to other careers.
Thus, zookeepers need to be adept at budgeting their money and making the most of their income. This may involve cutting back on unnecessary expenses, saving money on everyday purchases, and looking for ways to increase their income through side hustles or part-time jobs.
Tanganyika Wildlife Park Zoo Keeper Jobs
At Tanganyika Wildlife Park, zoo keeper jobs involve caring for over 5000 different animals. There are five main animal care departments at our zoo:
- Hoofstock – this team cares for one of the largest giraffe herds in the United States, two species of rhino, a breeding pair of pygmy hippos, the critically endangered Grevy’s Zebra, springbok, anteater, red river hogs, a warthog, and Okapi
- Trouble Maker’s Cove – this team is responsible for a huge colony of breeding African penguins with at least 50 individual birds, Asian small clawed otters, two-toed sloth, and two different species of armadillo, plus a rare albino alligator
- Birds, Roos, and Children’s Zoo (BREZ team) – this group of zookeepers are responsible for the care of over 25 birds, a mob of kangaroo, aldabra and sulcata tortoises, plus the zoos education animal collection and interactive children’s zoo
- Carnivores – as one of the world leaders in clouded leopard breeding this team oversees numerous successful breeding programs like snow leopards and cheetah as well as care for lions, tigers, and Bat-eared fox
- Primates – responsible for multiple groups of breeding colobus, saki monkeys, ring-tailed lemurs, red ruffed lemurs, and black and white ruffed lemurs this team is responsible for overseeing a lot of social dynamics. Plus they are one of the only teams in the U.S. to care for Javan langur, red-faced spider monkeys, and a breeding group of Mandrill. They also care for siamangs and gibbons.
Each team works together to inspire the stewardship of animals through public connections. Since Tanganyika Wildlife Park believes that interacting with animals is a surefire way to promote environmentally conscious behavior, our model is interactive.
Keepers and encounter station attendants work together to facilitate safe and ethical animal interactions with the guests. Many zoo jobs are also moving in this direction, requiring keeper talks and training demonstrations to engage visitors.
At Tanganyika, visitors can feed, touch, and experience wildlife up close and personal, and the zoo jobs at Tanganyika are vital to its success. They also offer “Wildly Different Experiences,” where people can touch a sloth or swim with a penguin. The keepers train and facilitate these experiences to ensure the animals have control and the choice to participate, and guests have wow moments they will remember forever.