Zookeeper 101: Wild Career Paths!

Unlocking the Wild: Embark on an Exciting Journey to Becoming a Zookeeper and Embrace the World of Wildlife!

Welcome, you are on the first step to a career filled with love, compassion, and immense dedication – zookeeping. Have you ever wondered who worked behind the scenes to keep these creatures fed, healthy, and happy? These heroes are zookeepers. 

Zoo work is a continuous learning journey, contributing to the conservation of endangered species and improving global understanding of their intricate balance.

In this post, I will answer all your questions about becoming a zookeeper. Questions like:

  1. A zookeeper’s duties
  2. Availability of training
  3. Qualifications required both personally and academically
  4. Applying for a zookeeper position
  5. Workplaces of zookeepers
  6. Salary Average
  7. Pros and cons of the profession
  8. Similar career paths

A Zookeeper’s Duties

One of their primary responsibilities as zookeepers is to ensure the zoo’s animals are healthy and happy. This includes maintaining proper hygiene through bathing, nourishing, and caring for the animals. In addition, they diligently observe the animals’ behavior, looking for any signs that might indicate potential health concerns.

  • Feeding the animals – As with people, different animals have different diet requirements to maintain their health. For example, pandas relish bamboo, reptiles thrive on insects, a plate of leaves, please, for the giraffes, etc.

  • Performing cleaning duties –  Keeping an animal’s living quarters clean is crucial to preventing disease and ensuring their health. 
  • Animal observation – Keeping a close eye on the animals is a top duty of this role. Observing any changes in their behavior, eating habits, or physical appearance could indicate a health issue.
  • Informing visitors – Keeping visitors informed about animal behaviors, conservation needs, and humans’ contributions to their survival is one of the responsibilities of zookeepers.

Availability of Training

Becoming a zookeeper requires more than passion and compassion for our animal friends. A successful career requires dedication, commitment, and hard work.


To work as a zookeeper, most zoos ask for a bachelor’s degree in a related field like Zoology, Biology, Animal Behavior, or Wildlife Conservation. This degree helps you learn about the science behind the tasks you’ll do as a zookeeper. Understanding ecological systems, animal physiology, and how human activity affects wildlife is important.

Become an Intern

To really get your feet wet, take part in an internship program. Working directly with animals in various capacities through internships offered by zoos, conservation centers, and research organizations is possible.

Getting Started is the First Step

Upon graduation, be prepared to start at entry level. Your title may be Zoo Aide or Assistant Zookeeper. You will probably be cleaning and doing meal prep, but you will gain experience interacting with animals and learning about zoo operations.

Continue to Learn and Gain Experience

Every zookeeper begins somewhere. Experience is crucial to making progress. Every opportunity to work with a different animal species can benefit your career.


Numerous animal shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and local farms provide volunteer opportunities. Volunteering helps you gain hands-on experience and showcases your commitment to animal care and welfare, qualities that future employers will appreciate.

Seminars and Certificates

In addition to pursuing a degree, attending workshops and obtaining certificates can be a highly effective means of acquiring specialized knowledge.  Moorpark College in California offers an Exotic Animal Training and Management (EATM) program.

Qualifications Required Both Personally and Academically

Being a zookeeper is not for the faint of heart! Not everyone is cut out for this vocation.

Maintaining Physical Fitness

This is not a 9-5 cushy job. You need to be physically able to perform the job functions. A typical day may include cleaning enclosures, feeding animals, lifting heavy items, and standing for most of the time.

Capacity to Observe

When you notice changes in an animal’s behavior, appetite, or physical appearance, it’s a very good indicator that something is amiss. Catching these issues early requires keen observation.

Communication Skills

Communicating well with your co-workers and the public is essential as a zookeeper. It ensures the safety and well-being of employees and visitors.


At the core of this role lies a deep connection with animals. Empathy is essential for sensing their needs, comprehending their behaviors, and championing their well-being.

Skills in Problem-Solving

Unexpected situations happen in a zoo, and you are expected to solve any problems. An animal could become ill, or an emergency repair of a gate that needs to remain locked are just a few examples.

Applying for a Zookeeper Position

  1. Research Job Openings – Check out the career page on various zoos’ websites. Any open positions should be listed there.
  1. Resume and Cover Letters – Be sure to tailor your cover letter and resume to the job you are applying for. Make it clear that you have the skills they seek.
  1. Submit Application – Submit your application based on how the zoo requests. This could be through an online portal, email, or postal mail.

  2. Prepare for the Interview – Hopefully, you are selected for an interview; prepare well by practicing some interview questions and answers. This would include animal care, handling situations, and knowing the zoo’s mission, challenges, and accomplishments. 
  1. Interviewing – Approach the interview with honesty, authenticity, and confidence. Utilize concrete examples from your previous experiences to showcase your skills and expertise. Remember, displaying your passion for animal welfare, and conservation is equally important alongside your formal qualifications.
  1. Follow up – Always follow up with a thank you email to express your continued interest and appreciation for the interview opportunity. You will stand out from those who ignore this part of the process.

Workplaces of Zookeepers

Zookeepers mainly work in outdoor settings. No, it is NOT always in zoos!

  • Zoos –  A place where wild animals and, in some instances, domesticated animals are exhibited in captivity
  • Animal Sanctuaries – A facility where animals are brought to live and be protected for the rest of their lives. 
  • Aquariums and Sea Parks –   Commercial theme parks where marine mammals such as dolphins, beluga whales, and sea lions are kept in captivity as trained show performers. Aquariums house various aquatic animal and plant species in large tanks for public viewing.

Salary Average

It is important to remember that becoming a zookeeper is not usually about earning huge profits. Working closely with animals, educating people about their importance, and contributing to their conservation gives you a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and wonder.

That said, salary is certainly a consideration before accepting any position, so let me provide some statistics. 

According to ZipRecruiter, as of July 13, 2023, the average hourly pay for a Zookeeper in the United States is $18.01. Bear in mind that this is just an average. Pay can vary based on the following conditions:

  • Level of education
  • Experience
  • Geographical location
  • Prestigiousness of the zoo in which you’re employed. 

As a bonus, zoos often offer health insurance, retirement plans, and even housing, which help offset lower base salaries.

Pros and Cons of the Profession


  • Working closely with a variety of animals
  • A feeling of contentment
  • Taking part in public education


  • Physically demanding
  • Emotional toll when losing an animal
  • Unpredictable work hours

Similar Career Paths

Several related careers involve working with animals in different environments if you are not interested in becoming a zookeeper. Here are a few noteworthy ones:

Wildlife Rehabilitator

If healing and releasing animals back into the wild excite you, consider becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. They nurture and reintroduce orphaned or injured wildlife.

Animal Trainer

Do you have a sixth sense of animals? Then channel those senses into becoming an animal trainer. Your ability to communicate with and train animals for various purposes, from obedience to entertainment to assisting disabled individuals, could lead to a rewarding career path.


A career as a veterinarian might be a good fit for you if you love animal health and can devote many years to education and training. As part of this path, you diagnose and treat animal diseases, provide preventative care, and perform surgical procedures.

Conservation Scientist

Appreciating animals and their habitats may lead individuals to become conservation scientists. This role involves researching, improving, and protecting forest conditions and habitats.

Aquarium Careers

Much like zookeeping, employment at an aquarium presents chances to nurture marine creatures. Roles such as Aquarist, Marine Mammal Specialist, and Aquarium Educator frequently involve performing similar duties to zookeeping in a specialized aquatic setting.

In Summary

As a zookeeper, you can increase the quality of life of countless animals and represent those creatures who cannot advocate for themselves. With the right dedication, determination, and love for wildlife, success is almost guaranteed. 

Final Steps

I have full confidence in your capacity to bring about substantial change and leave a lasting impact in the zookeeping field. Our career mentors are equipped to offer personalized insights, guidance, and motivation that align with your passions and aspirations. Connect with us to explore whether a career in animal care as a zookeeper is the ideal path for your future.

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