Animal Keeper Career Profile

How do I become an animal keeper?

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UPDATED:

4 January 2024

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What is an Animal Keeper?

Animal Keepers supervise and care for animals in zoos, aquariums, and the different parks used for entertainment, education and conservation.

Bird 1

Alternative Names

  • Zookeeper

Are there different kinds of Zookeepers?

There are hundreds of different kinds of animal keepers, based on the kind of animals they work with, for example groups of animals:

  • Large Mammal Keeper
  • Marine Mammal Keeper
  • Ectotherm Keeper
  • Big Cats Keeper

Or according to the specific species the keeper might be working with, for example:

  • Elephant Keeper
  • Gorilla Keeper
  • Dolphin Keeper

Career Categories

The Animal Keeper falls within the following Career Categories:

  • Animal Care
  • Wildlife Conservation
  • Zoo, Aquariums, Museums and Amusement Parks

History

About 1500 BC, Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt established the earliest known zoo

Zookeeper Day

The date October 4th was chosen for International Zoo Keeper Day as it is celebrated worldwide as the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (patron saint of animals)

What does an Animal Keeper do?

Groups of animals an Animal Keeper works with

Mammals List Icon OZT
Mammals
Birds List Icon OZT
Birds
Reptiles List Icon OZT
Reptiles
Amphibians List Icon OZT
Amphibians
Fish List Icon OZT
Fish
Crustaceans List Icon OZT
Crustaceans
Mollusks Link Icon OZT
Mollusks
Insects List Icon OZT
Insects

Animal Keepers work with a wide range of animals, depending on the type of facility or institution they are employed in. Here are some categories of animals that Animal Keepers commonly work with:

Domestic Animals:

Animal Keepers may work with domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and farm animals. This can include responsibilities in animal shelters, kennels, farms, or educational farms.

Wildlife:

Animal Keepers in wildlife sanctuaries, rehabilitation centers, or reserves may work with a variety of native or exotic wildlife, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Zoo Animals:

One of the most common environments for Animal Keepers is zoos, where they care for a diverse array of species, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

Aquatic Animals:

In aquariums or marine parks, Animal Keepers may work with aquatic animals such as fish, marine mammals (dolphins, seals, sea lions), and invertebrates like corals and jellyfish.

Birds:

Animal Keepers may specialize in working with various bird species, including parrots, raptors, waterfowl, and other aviary species.

Reptiles and Amphibians:

Some Animal Keepers may focus on caring for reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, and salamanders.

Big Cats and Large Mammals:

In wildlife reserves or large zoos, Animal Keepers may work with big cats (lions, tigers, leopards), bears, elephants, rhinoceroses, and other large mammals.

Primates:

Some Animal Keepers specialize in caring for primates, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, lemurs, and monkeys, often found in zoos or primate sanctuaries.

Invertebrates:

Invertebrates, including insects, arachnids, and mollusks, may be part of the collection in zoos, insectariums, or specialized exhibits.

Endangered or Exotic Species:

Animal Keepers in conservation-focused facilities may work with endangered or exotic species, contributing to breeding programs and conservation efforts.

Marine Animals:

Animal Keepers in marine facilities may work with marine animals, including sea turtles, sea otters, penguins, and various species of fish.

Specialized Collections:

In some cases, Animal Keepers may work with specialized collections, such as insect collections, herpetariums, or botanical gardens that house animals in conjunction with plant exhibits.

Animal Keepers need to have knowledge of the specific requirements, behaviors, and health considerations for the animals in their care. The diversity of animals they work with requires adaptability, expertise, and a deep commitment to the well-being of the animals.

What is the level of Interaction with the Animals?

With who does an Animal Keeper work?

Animal keepers work in various settings, including zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, aquariums, research facilities, and animal rehabilitation centres. In these environments, they interact with a diverse group of individuals as part of their daily responsibilities. Here are the different kinds of people that an animal keeper may work with daily:

Zoo or Sanctuary Visitors:

Animal keepers often engage with zoo or sanctuary visitors, providing information about the animals, their habitats, and conservation efforts. They may answer questions and offer educational programmes.

Supervisors and Managers:

Animal keepers report to supervisors or managers who oversee daily operations, set schedules, and ensure the animals receive proper care and enrichment.

Co-Workers:

Animal keepers collaborate closely with fellow keepers, curators, and other staff members. They work together to maintain animal enclosures, prepare diets, and provide daily care.

Veterinarians and Veterinary Technicians:

Animal keepers work closely with veterinarians and veterinary technicians to monitor animal health, administer medications, and coordinate medical treatments and procedures.

Animal Behaviourists and Trainers:

In some facilities, animal keepers may work with animal behaviourists and trainers to assess and address the behavioural needs of the animals, as well as participate in training sessions.

Nutritionists:

Nutritionists help develop dietary plans for the animals, ensuring that they receive balanced and appropriate nutrition. Keepers implement these feeding regimens.

Maintenance and Facilities Staff:

Maintenance and facilities personnel help maintain enclosures, repair infrastructure, and ensure that the animal habitats are safe and functional.

Educators and Outreach Specialists:

Educators and outreach specialists collaborate with animal keepers to design and deliver educational programmes and presentations to the public, schools, and community groups.

Researchers:

In research-oriented facilities, animal keepers may work with researchers conducting studies related to animal behaviour, reproduction, or health. They may assist in data collection and sample collection.

Regulatory Agencies and Inspectors:

Animal keepers may interact with government agencies responsible for animal welfare and compliance with regulations. Inspectors may visit facilities to ensure animals are well cared for and living in suitable conditions.

Animal Welfare Organisations:

Animal keepers may collaborate with animal welfare organisations that support conservation efforts and advocate for the welfare of animals in captivity.

Volunteers and Interns:

Many facilities rely on volunteers and interns to assist with daily tasks, animal enrichment, and public education. Keepers may supervise and work alongside these individuals.

Media and Filmmakers:

In some cases, animal keepers may interact with media professionals and filmmakers who document the work of the facility or conduct wildlife-related projects.

Research Collaborators:

For institutions involved in conservation and research projects, animal keepers may collaborate with researchers from universities, government agencies, or nonprofit organisations.

Local Community Members:

Animal keepers may engage with local community members who have a vested interest in the facility’s activities, such as fundraisers, supporters, or volunteers.

Effective communication and teamwork skills are essential for animal keepers, as they work closely with a wide range of people to ensure the well-being of the animals under their care and to educate the public about conservation and wildlife preservation efforts.

What do Animal Keepers focus on?

An Animal Keeper’s work focuses on maintaining captive exotic animals for conservation, research, public education and recreation. Animal Keepers are at the forefront in conserving species for the general public and future generations.

What are the daily tasks of Animal Keepers?

The daily tasks of an animal keeper can vary depending on the type of facility they work in, such as a zoo, aquarium, wildlife sanctuary, or research institution. However, here are some common tasks that animal keepers may perform on a daily basis:

Feeding:

Animal keepers are responsible for providing the appropriate diet for the animals in their care. This may involve preparing and distributing meals, ensuring dietary requirements are met, and monitoring the animals’ eating habits.

Cleaning and Maintenance:

Animal enclosures need to be kept clean and well-maintained to ensure the health and well-being of the animals. This includes cleaning enclosures, removing waste, and maintaining the overall cleanliness of the living spaces.

Observation:

Animal keepers spend time observing the behaviour and health of the animals. They may monitor for any signs of illness, injury, or unusual behaviour and report their observations to veterinary staff.

Enrichment Activities:

Animal keepers implement enrichment activities to stimulate the mental and physical well-being of the animals. This could involve providing toys, puzzles, or other forms of environmental enrichment.

Health Care:

Animal keepers may assist with basic veterinary care, such as administering medications, monitoring health indicators, and participating in routine health check-ups.

Record Keeping:

Maintaining accurate and detailed records is crucial for tracking the health, behaviour, and dietary habits of each animal. This information is often shared with veterinary staff and other team members.

Training:

Some animal facilities implement training programmes for the animals, and keepers may be involved in these programmes to facilitate positive interactions with the animals and to assist in medical procedures.

Public Interaction:

In facilities like zoos, animal keepers may engage with the public, providing information about the animals, conservation efforts, and answering questions. They play a role in educating visitors about the importance of wildlife conservation.

Team Collaboration:

Animal keepers often work as part of a team, collaborating with veterinarians, curators, and other staff members to ensure the overall well-being of the animals and the smooth operation of the facility.

Emergency Response:

Animal keepers must be prepared to respond to emergencies, such as animal escapes, extreme weather events, or other unexpected situations that may threaten the safety of the animals or staff.

These tasks collectively contribute to the overall care, well-being, and conservation efforts of the animals under the care of Animal Keepers. The specific duties may vary based on the institution and the types of animals involved.

With what kind of tools and technology (if any) does an Animal Keeper work?

Animal Keepers utilise various tools and technology to effectively care for and monitor the animals under their supervision. The specific tools and technology used can vary depending on the type of facility, the species of animals being cared for, and the level of technological advancement. Here are some common tools and technology used by Animal Keepers:

Cleaning Equipment:

Brooms, mops, scrub brushes, hoses, and pressure washers are used for cleaning animal enclosures, floors, and other surfaces.

Feeding Equipment:

Buckets, bowls, and feeding troughs are used to provide food and water to animals. Automatic feeders may also be utilized for timed feeding.

Enrichment Devices:

Enrichment devices such as puzzle feeders, toys, ropes, and climbing structures are used to provide mental and physical stimulation for animals in captivity.

Veterinary Equipment:

Basic veterinary tools such as thermometers, stethoscopes, syringes, and bandages may be used by Animal Keepers to assist with routine health checks and first aid procedures.

Monitoring Equipment:

Cameras, sensors, and monitoring systems may be used to observe animal behavior, track movement patterns, and ensure the safety and security of animals in their enclosures.

Climate Control Systems:

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are essential for maintaining optimal temperature and humidity levels in animal enclosures, especially in indoor facilities.

Water Quality Testing Kits:

Animal Keepers working with aquatic animals may use water quality testing kits to monitor parameters such as pH, ammonia levels, and temperature to ensure a healthy aquatic Environment.

Capture and Restraint Equipment:

Animal Keepers may use capture nets, handling gloves, and restraint devices to safely handle and transport animals, especially during medical procedures or enclosure maintenance.

GPS Tracking Devices:

In outdoor facilities or wildlife reserves, GPS tracking devices may be used to monitor the movement and behavior of animals in their natural habitats.

Record-Keeping Software:

Digital record-keeping systems or specialized software may be used to track animal health records, feeding schedules, enrichment activities, and other important data.

Training Tools:

Clickers, target sticks, and other training aids may be used for positive reinforcement training to teach animals behaviors for medical procedures, enrichment activities, or public demonstrations.

Communication Devices:

Two-way radios or communication systems are used for coordination and communication among Animal Keepers, veterinary staff, and other personnel within the facility.

These tools and technology help Animal Keepers ensure the health, safety, and well-being of the animals under their care while also supporting conservation, research, and educational goals within animal care facilities.

In which environment does an Animal Keeper work in?

What are the environment and places of employment like?

Animal Keepers work in a variety of environments, and the conditions can vary based on the type of facility they are employed in. Here’s an overview of the indoor and outdoor environments commonly associated with animal keepers and the types of facilities where they are mostly employed:

Zoos and Wildlife Parks:

  • Indoor Environment: Animal keepers in zoos often have indoor spaces for administrative tasks, preparing food, and storage of supplies. These areas may include offices, kitchens, and storage facilities.
  • Outdoor Environment: The majority of an animal keeper’s time is spent outdoors in the zoo exhibits. This involves caring for animals, cleaning enclosures, and conducting enrichment activities. Outdoor areas are designed to Mimic natural habitats as much as possible.

Aquariums:

  • Indoor Environment: Aquariums typically have indoor areas for administrative work, water filtration systems, and educational displays. Animal keepers may also spend time in quarantine areas for new arrivals.
  • Outdoor Environment: Animal keepers work in outdoor exhibits and may engage in tasks such as feeding marine animals, cleaning tanks, and maintaining water quality.

Wildlife Sanctuaries:

  • Indoor Environment: Some wildlife sanctuaries have indoor spaces for administrative purposes, food preparation, and veterinary care.
  • Outdoor Environment: The majority of the work for animal keepers in wildlife sanctuaries takes place outdoors, where they care for rescued or rehabilitated animals in natural or semi-natural enclosures.

Research Institutions:

  • Indoor Environment: Animal keepers in research institutions may have indoor spaces for administrative work, data analysis, and research planning. Some work may also involve maintaining laboratory conditions for specific experiments.
  • Outdoor Environment: Depending on the research focus, animal keepers may work outdoors in field research, studying animals in their natural habitats.

Farms and Ranches:

  • Indoor Environment: Animal keepers on farms and ranches may have indoor spaces for tasks such as feeding preparation, animal healthcare, and administrative work.
  • Outdoor Environment: Much of the work involves outdoor tasks, including feeding, herding, and ensuring the well-being of livestock.

Petting Zoos and Educational Farms:

  • Indoor Environment: Some educational farms and petting zoos have indoor spaces for educational programmes, offices, and animal care facilities.
  • Outdoor Environment: Animal keepers in these settings spend a significant amount of time outdoors, interacting with visitors and caring for animals in public viewing areas.

Animal keepers are employed globally, and their distribution is influenced by the presence of zoos, wildlife parks, sanctuaries, aquariums, research institutions, farms, and other facilities that require animal care expertise. Larger cities and regions with a strong focus on conservation and education tend to have more opportunities for employment as animal keepers.

What is the Average Salary for an Animal Keeper?

Salaries for animal keepers can vary widely based on factors such as experience, location, the type of facility, and the cost of living in a particular region. Additionally, currency fluctuations and economic conditions can impact salary levels. It’s important to note that the figures provided here are general estimates, and actual salaries may differ.

United States:

From $30,000 to $50,000 or more

Canada:

From CAD 35,000 to CAD 60,000

United Kingdom:

In the range of £18,000 to £25,000

India:

On average, it may range from INR 2,00,000 to INR 5,00,000 or more per year.

Australia:

Ranging from AUD 50,000 to AUD 70,000 or more.

New Zealand:

In the range of NZD 45,000 to NZD 60,000 or more.

Nigeria:

From NGN 600,000 to NGN 1,500,000

Kenya:

In the range of KES 300,000 to KES 700,000

South Africa:

Average range of ZAR 120,000 to ZAR 300,000

REGIONAL

  • South America (General):

Salaries in South America can vary by country. On average, animal keepers may earn amounts similar to those in North America or Europe, depending on the specific country and economic conditions.

  • Europe (General):

Salaries in Europe can vary widely by country. In general, animal keepers may earn amounts similar to those in North America, with variations based on factors like cost of living and economic conditions.

  • Southeast Asia (General):

Salaries in Southeast Asia can vary by country. On average, animal keepers may earn amounts that are lower than those in North America or Europe, depending on the specific country and economic conditions.

It’s important to note that these figures are rough estimates and should be used as general guidelines. Prospective animal keepers should research specific locations, industries, and facilities for more accurate and up-to-date salary information.

Can Animal Keepers be promoted?

The career path and promotional opportunities for an animal keeper can vary depending on factors such as the specific facility, the level of experience, the size of the organization, and the individual’s goals and qualifications.

Here are some common stages and promotional opportunities for animal keepers:

Entry-Level Animal Keeper

This is typically the starting position for individuals entering the field. Entry-level animal keepers assist in the daily care of animals, including feeding, cleaning enclosures, and providing enrichment. They may also interact with visitors and assist with educational programs

Senior Animal Keeper

After gaining experience and demonstrating competence in their duties, animal keepers may be promoted to senior positions. Senior keepers often take on more responsibility, including training and supervising junior keepers, assisting with veterinary care, and helping with exhibit design and maintenance

Lead Animal Keeper or Head Keeper

 In larger facilities or those with complex animal collections, there may be lead animal keepers or head keepers responsible for overseeing a specific area or animal group. They manage the daily operations of their section, ensure animal well-being, and liaise with curators and management

Curator or Assistant Curator

Curators are responsible for the care and management of animal collections within a specific department or exhibit area. They may oversee multiple animal keepers, collaborate on exhibit design, and participate in conservation and breeding programs. Assistant curators often work closely with curators and may eventually advance to the curator role

Director or Manager of Animal Care

At the highest level of animal care management within a facility, individuals may become directors or managers of animal care. They oversee the entire animal collection, budgeting, staffing, and strategic planning. They often work closely with executive leadership and contribute to the organization’s mission and vision

Specialized Roles

Some animal keepers choose to specialize in specific areas, such as animal training, animal behavior, animal enrichment, or veterinary care. These specialized roles may lead to advanced positions within those niches

Conservation and Research Opportunities

For animal keepers interested in conservation and research, there may be opportunities to work on research projects, participate in fieldwork, or collaborate with scientists and conservation organizations

Education and Outreach

Animal keepers with strong communication skills and a passion for education may transition into roles focused on public education, interpretation, and outreach. These positions involve educating visitors about animals, conservation, and wildlife preservation

What difficulties do Animal Keepers face?

Animal keepers may encounter a variety of challenges in their profession, spanning physical demands, safety concerns, working conditions, emotional challenges, business management, regulatory compliance, continuing education, and more. Here are some potential challenges:

Physical Demands:

The work of animal keepers can be physically demanding, involving tasks such as lifting heavy objects, cleaning enclosures, and standing or walking for extended periods.

Safety Concerns for Animals:

Working closely with animals always involves a degree of risk. Animal keepers may face safety concerns due to the unpredictable nature of animals, especially if they work with large or potentially dangerous species.

Variability in Working Conditions:

Working conditions can vary widely, from outdoor work in various weather conditions to indoor work in different environments. Adapting to these variations can be challenging.

Emotional Challenges:

Animal keepers may experience emotional challenges, especially when dealing with sick or injured animals or witnessing natural behaviours like predation. Building strong bonds with animals can make decisions related to their care emotionally taxing.

Business Management:

In facilities such as zoos or private animal care businesses, animal keepers may encounter challenges related to business management, including budget constraints, resource allocation, and coordination with other departments.

Regulatory Compliance:

Compliance with local, state, and federal regulations, as well as industry standards, is essential. Keeping up with changing regulations can be time-consuming and challenging.

Continuing Education:

Staying current with advancements in animal care practises, veterinary medicine, and conservation efforts requires ongoing education. Animal keepers may need to invest time and effort in continuing education to enhance their skills.

Unpredictable Work Hours:

Animal care is often a 24/7 responsibility. Keepers may need to work irregular hours, including weekends and holidays, to ensure the constant care and monitoring of animals.

Public Relations and Education:

For those working in public-facing institutions like zoos, effectively communicating with the public and participating in educational outreach can be challenging but are increasingly important.

Limited Resources:

Facilities may have limited resources, leading to challenges in providing optimal care. This can include issues such as limited staff, funding, or space for animal enclosures.

Burnout:

The emotional and physical demands of the job, combined with the potential for challenging situations, may contribute to burnout. Taking steps to manage stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance is crucial.

Animal Advocacy:

Balancing the goals of animal welfare, conservation, and public education can be challenging. Animal keepers may find themselves advocating for the well-being of the animals they care for within the context of larger institutional goals.

These challenges highlight the multifaceted nature of the animal keeper profession and underscore the importance of resilience, adaptability, and ongoing professional development in this field.

Future Growth and Possibilities of the Career

​The prospects of future growth in this industry is generally slow, mainly due to the limited number of employing facilities. This is also one of the lowest-paid positions for animal care careers in relation to the minimum qualifications required to enter.

These are some of the general trends and possibilities that may influence the future of the animal caretaker industry:

Increased Focus on Conservation:

There is a growing emphasis on wildlife conservation and habitat preservation. Animal caretakers working in zoos, aquariums, and wildlife sanctuaries may see increased opportunities as these organisations play a vital role in conservation efforts.

Advancements in Animal Welfare Practises:

The industry is likely to continue evolving, with a focus on improving animal welfare practises. This includes the development of more effective enrichment strategies, improved housing designs, and better healthcare for animals in captivity.

Educational Outreach and Public Engagement:

Zoos and similar institutions are increasingly recognising the importance of educational outreach. Animal caretakers may find themselves involved in public engagement, providing information on animal behaviour, conservation, and the role of these facilities in preserving Biodiversity.

Technological Advancements:

Technology, such as advanced monitoring systems and data analytics, may become more integrated into animal care practises. This could enhance the ability of caretakers to monitor and respond to the needs of the animals more effectively.

Specialisation in Exotic and Endangered species:

With a growing awareness of the threats facing many species, there may be an increased demand for animal caretakers with expertise in caring for exotic and endangered species. This could include work in breeding programmes, reintroduction efforts, and the care of rare or at-risk animals.

Global Health Concerns:

Events such as Zoonotic disease outbreaks can impact the animal care industry. Increased attention to global health and biosecurity measures may influence the practises and protocols followed by animal caretakers, especially in settings with a high level of public interaction.

Ethical Considerations:

There is a growing awareness of ethical considerations in animal care, including the treatment of animals in captivity. This may lead to changes in industry standards and practises, with a focus on providing the best possible living conditions for animals.

Remember that industry trends can change, and it’s essential to stay updated on developments in the field. Checking with industry associations, government labour reports, and reputable sources in the animal care and conservation sectors can provide the latest information on career trends and projections.

Availability of Jobs

Average

Which Skills do Animal Keepers need?

The skills required for a career as an animal keeper can be divided into two very important groups. The first is the group containing life skills, which are the core skills that are necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life. The second group is career skills, or the specific skills required to allow a person to enter and operate effectively within a specific career. Some or maybe even all of the life skills can assist in strengthening the career skills, and they might even be the same for specific careers.

Life Skills

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Decision making
  • Problem Solving
  • Effective communication
  • Interpersonal relationship
Life Skills
35%

Career Skills

  • ​Basic animal handling and care techniques
  • Ability to give educational talks to the public
  • Basic customer service skills
  • Good health and physical fitness
  • Basic computer literacy
  • Basic knowledge of laws impacting on their work, such as the Animal Welfare Act
Career Skills
65%

Which Subjects must I have at School?

The subjects you choose at school are important as they lay the foundation for further studies at college or university. While still at school, it’s also important to learn more about the animals you will work with, as well as gain some experience.

OZT has a list of various tertiary institutions where you can study further, after school. Each of these institutions also have their own Group page on OZT where you will find the exact subjects they require of you to have passed in school. Keep these requirements in mind, and discuss it with your school, guidance counselor and parents to ensure that you are prepared!

What will I need to Study to become an Animal Keeper?

Minimum educational qualification

There are animal organizations that advertise for Assistant or Junior Animal Keepers where you only need a High School Certificate/ Diploma or GCSE equivalent, with some experience in working with animals (mostly wildlife), but the Animal Keeper industry is becoming more competitive. This means that most available positions will have a minimum requirement of a recognized College Diploma, or a Bachelor’s Degree (graduate Degree), majoring in zoology or animal science. Degrees focusing on biology, ecology, or conservation science will also help.

Due to the level of competition it is extremely important to prepare for this career, even while still in school. One Zoo Tree has a list of things that will help you to prepare, as well as places where you might gain valuable experience with all kinds of animals. For example, there are thousands of part-time and online short courses that will add to your knowledge and look great on your CV, such as in general animal health and animal First Aid.

A good knowledge of computers is necessary, as many of the zoos make use of special software (such as the ARK7 software) to help them keep record of for example special reports on injuries and breeding behaviour.

Subject focus

Here are some different kinds of tertiary qualifications and certifications available for aspiring animal keepers:

  • Associate’s Degree in Zoo Science or Animal Management: Some colleges and community colleges offer associate’s degree programs specifically focused on zoo science or animal management. These programs provide comprehensive training in animal care, behavior, nutrition, and management.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Zoology, Biology, or a Related Field: A bachelor’s degree in zoology, biology, or a closely related field can provide a solid foundation for a career in animal care and management. It covers the scientific principles necessary for understanding and working with animals.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science: A degree in animal science offers a broader education that includes livestock and domestic animal management, but it can still be relevant to those interested in working with exotic or non-domesticated animals.
  • Certificate Programs: Many institutions offer certificate programs in animal care and management. These programs vary in length and can cover topics such as animal behavior, nutrition, husbandry, and safety.
  • Certified Zookeeper Programs: Some organizations, like the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), offer certified zookeeper programs. These programs provide specialized training in zookeeping and may lead to certification as a professional zookeeper.
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Certification: For individuals interested in wildlife rehabilitation, certification programs are available. These programs cover the care and rehabilitation of injured or orphaned wildlife and often require hands-on experience.
  • Master’s Degree in Wildlife Conservation: Those interested in wildlife conservation and management may pursue a master’s degree in wildlife conservation or a related field. This advanced degree can lead to positions in wildlife conservation and research.
  • Continuing Education and Workshops: Animal keepers can benefit from continuing education programs and workshops offered by professional associations, universities, and institutions. These short courses provide specialized training and updates on best practices.
  • Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Nursing Degree: Some animal keepers choose to become veterinary technicians or nurses by pursuing an accredited program in veterinary technology. This qualification can be valuable for working in animal health care and medical management.
  • Professional Certifications: Many professional organizations and associations offer certifications for animal keepers. Examples include the Certified Professional Animal Care Provider (CPACP) and Certified Professional Animal Trainer (CPAT) certifications.
  • Advanced Degrees: For those interested in research, conservation, or management roles, pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in fields like wildlife biology, conservation biology, or ecology can be beneficial.

It’s important for aspiring animal keepers to research and choose programs that align with their career goals and interests. The specific qualifications required for animal keeping positions can vary widely, with some roles emphasizing practical experience and others requiring academic qualifications. Building a strong foundation of knowledge, gaining practical experience through internships or volunteer work, and networking within the field are also essential for a successful career as an animal keeper.

Study duration

The duration of most College Diplomas are between 2 and 3 years, and Bachelor’s Degrees are between 3 and 4 years full time. The duration of short courses differ, but can range from a few days to a few months.

​Possible Career Preparation Paths

If this is your dream career that you want to pursue, then it’s important to plan the way forward.

Why is planning important?

​To ensure that you understand the requirements for your career, and that you are always prepared for the next step on the road towards your dream. A Preparation Path is like your road map to where you want to be.

Possible Paths:

High school students interested in pursuing a career as an animal keeper can take specific steps to prepare for this rewarding profession. Here’s a step-by-step career path:

1. High School Education:

Focus on biology, zoology, or related science courses during high school. These courses provide a foundational understanding of animal biology, behaviour, and ecology.

2. Gain Volunteer Experience:

Look for volunteer opportunities at local animal shelters, veterinary clinics, or wildlife rehabilitation centres. This hands-on experience will provide valuable insights into working with animals and demonstrate commitment to future employers or educational institutions.

3. Pursue Extracurricular Activities:

Join science or biology clubs, participate in environmental or wildlife conservation initiatives, or become involved in community service projects related to animal welfare.

4. Attend Career Guidance Sessions:

Attend career guidance sessions or workshops to learn more about careers in animal care. Seek advice from guidance counsellors, teachers, or professionals in the field.

5. Explore Educational Paths:

Research educational programmes in biology, zoology, animal science, or related fields at colleges and universities. Consider degree programmes that include practical, hands-on experience or internships.

6. Obtain a High School Diploma or Equivalent:

Successfully complete high school or obtain a GED (General Educational Development) diploma.

7. Pursue Higher Education:

Enrol in a college or university to pursue a relevant degree. Consider bachelor’s programmes in fields such as biology, zoology, animal science, or wildlife management.

8. Seek Internship Opportunities:

During college, actively seek internships or part-time positions at zoos, aquariums, wildlife sanctuaries, or research institutions. This provides practical experience and networking opportunities.

9. Join Professional Associations:

Become a student member of professional associations related to animal care, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Attend conferences and events to stay informed about industry trends.

10. Gain specialised Skills:

Acquire additional skills such as first aid and CPR certification, basic veterinary knowledge, and training in animal behaviour. Many employers value a diverse skill set in potential animal keepers.

11. Network with professionals:

Attend industry events, workshops, or conferences to network with professionals in the field. Building connections can open up opportunities for internships or entry-level positions.

12. Graduation and Job Search:

Upon completing your degree, start looking for entry-level positions or internships in animal care facilities. Check job boards, company websites, and professional networks for opportunities.

13. Pursue Advanced Degrees (Optional):

Depending on career goals, consider pursuing advanced degrees (Master’s or Ph.D.) for roles that involve research, conservation, or higher-level positions within the field.

14. Stay Updated and Pursue Continuing Education:

Animal care practises and industry standards evolve. Stay informed by attending workshops, online courses, or pursuing continuing education opportunities throughout your career.
By following these steps, high school students can lay a solid foundation for a career as an animal keeper and increase their chances of success in this rewarding field.

Possible Combined career paths

It is possible to sometimes combine two or more related careers. This normally happens when you study and practice a specific main career, but the knowledge and experience gained also help you to have a paying hobby or secondary income career.

Possible Alternative(s):

Stepping Stone career paths

A stepping-stone career refers to a job or position that serves as a transitional or intermediate step towards a long-term career goal. Individuals may take on a stepping-stone job as it requires minimum education or finances to enter, or to gain relevant experience and develop skills, or to make professional connections that will ultimately help them progress towards their desired career path.

These interim positions may not be the ultimate or dream job, but they provide valuable learning opportunities and contribute to the individual’s overall career development. Stepping-stone careers are often seen as a strategic approach to building a successful and fulfilling professional trajectory, allowing individuals to gradually move closer to their desired roles or industries.

A career as an animal keeper can serve as a stepping stone to various other career paths within the broader field of animal care, conservation, and related disciplines.

Here are several potential career paths that individuals with experience as animal keepers might consider:

Training and Apprenticeship

On-the-job training and apprenticeships play a crucial role in preparing individuals for a career as an animal keeper. While the specific requirements can vary depending on the employer and the nature of the work, here are some common elements often associated with on-the-job training and apprenticeships for aspiring animal keepers:

Orientation and Facility Familiarisation:

New animal keepers typically undergo an orientation process to become familiar with the facility, its layout, and safety protocols.

Shadowing Experienced Keepers:

Apprentices often spend time shadowing experienced animal keepers to observe daily routines, animal care practises, and facility procedures.

Hands-On Animal Care:

Apprenticeships involve hands-on experience in animal care tasks, such as feeding, cleaning enclosures, administering medications, and providing enrichment.

Safety Training:

Training in safety procedures is crucial to ensuring the well-being of both animal keepers and the animals. This may include handling protocols, emergency response procedures, and proper use of equipment.

Species-Specific Training:

Depending on the facility, apprentices may receive species-specific training, especially if they will be working with a diverse range of animals. This training covers the unique needs and behaviours of different species.

Medical Procedures:

Apprentices may be trained in basic veterinary procedures, such as administering medications, assisting with medical exams, and monitoring the health of animals.

Enrichment Techniques:

Learning how to create and implement enrichment activities is a key aspect of on-the-job training, as it contributes to the mental and physical well-being of the animals.

Record Keeping:

Apprentices often learn how to maintain accurate and detailed records of animal care, including health observations, feeding schedules, and any behavioural changes.

Public Interaction Training:

For animal keepers working in public-facing institutions like zoos, training in public interaction and education may be provided to effectively communicate with visitors about the animals and conservation efforts.

Professional Development:

Apprenticeships may include opportunities for professional development, such as workshops, seminars, and conferences, to stay informed about industry best practises.

It’s important for individuals seeking a career as an animal keeper to actively seek out opportunities for internships, volunteer work, or entry-level positions in animal care to gain practical experience and enhance their chances of securing on-the-job training. Additionally, networking with professionals in the field and participating in relevant workshops or conferences can provide valuable insights and connections.

Join the Animal Keepers Group in the community to learn more and even interact with the educational institutions that will help you secure your dream career!

Average level of education of those entering the career:

High School Certificate 0%
Diploma or Short Courses 0%
Degree or Higher Studies 0%

Licenses, Certifications, Registrations and Professional Associations

The specific requirements for licences, certificates, and registrations to become an animal keeper can vary depending on the jurisdiction, the type of facility, and the nature of the work. However, here are some general guidelines and common requirements:

Education:

  • Many positions as animal keepers require a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Some positions may prefer or require a degree in a relevant field such as biology, zoology, animal science, or a related discipline.

Experience:

  • Practical experience working with animals is often essential. This can be gained through internships, volunteer work, or entry-level positions in animal care.

Training:

  • Animal keepers may need to complete specific training programmes in animal care, husbandry, and safety procedures.
  • Some facilities may provide on-the-job training for specialised tasks or working with specific species.

Certifications:

  • Certain certifications may be required or preferred, depending on the type of animals involved. For example, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) offers a Professional Certification Programme for zoo professionals.

Driver’s License:

  • Animal keepers may be required to hold a valid driver’s licence, especially if the job involves transporting animals or goods.

Wildlife Rehabilitation License:

  • In cases where animal keepers work with wildlife rehabilitation, they may need specific licences or permits from wildlife agencies.

First Aid and CPR Certification:

  • Certification in first aid and CPR may be required for handling emergencies and ensuring the safety of both animals and staff.

Background Check:

  • Many employers, especially those working with endangered or exotic species, may conduct background checks as part of the hiring process.

Licensing for Exotic Animals:

  • In some regions, special licences or permits may be required for keeping and caring for certain exotic or endangered species.

Continuing Education:

Animal keepers may be required to participate in ongoing professional development and continuing education to stay informed about best practises and new developments in animal care.

Prospective animal keepers should research the specific requirements of the facility or organisation they are interested in working for and be prepared to meet those requirements. It’s also important to stay informed about any changes in regulations or industry standards that may affect the qualifications needed for this profession.

Professional Associations

Where can I study further?

All of the above information will help you understand more about the Career, including the fact that there are different paths to take to reach it. But if you are almost done with High School (Grades 11 or 12), you also need to start thinking about further studies, and WHERE you will study.

See the List of Universities, Colleges and Online Training Academies who offer courses towards animal care

How do I start to prepare for this Career?

If you do decide on following this career, then OZT can assist you in gaining knowledge about the career and the animals you will be working with. We do this by offering you thousands of FREE short courses.

A. You can access the specialised study guide that fits in with the above preparation path

B.  If you are still uncertain about choosing this career, then have a look at our special series of WHAT NEXT courses. They take you through all of the questions you might have on how to choose the right career, what to do while and after school, and even how to start your own business.

C.  Or, join OZT as a member to access easy-to-use lists of courses to make your career preparation as smooth as possible! And yes, membership is always free.

Join the OZT online community for special access to more tools!

Join us as a special member and learn more about becoming an animal keeper.

Members of the Platform have special access to:

  • Info on the best places where you can study (colleges, universities and online)
  • Expertly designed advice to prepare you for the career, and links to places where you can gain valuable experience. For some career experience is necessary, otherwise you wont get the job!
  • Top notch info on each of the different species you will work with
  • Make friends around the world and share knowledge 
  • Compete and win points, badges, games, prizes and certificates. Be the best of the best, while you learn and prepare!

If you have decided on being an Animal Keeper and want to join our Community, or you are already a member, please click on the JOIN GROUP button.

If this career is NOT the career for you, then you may return to the MAIN CAREER menu to start a new search and learn about a different career. 

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