How do I become an animal keeper?
READ: This page helps you to read about the career and the info you need to decide on whether this is indeed the career you want to follow.
RESEARCH: Learn about the skills required and minimum subjects to enter this career, as well as the places where you can study further after school.
PREPARE: If you want to plan and prepare for the career, then join the OZT Community! Members have access to tools, while chatting with other students and experts from around the world. Prepare to be amazed!
UPDATED: 29 August 2020
1. What is an Animal Keeper?
Animal Keepers care for animals in zoos, aquariums, and the different parks used for entertainment, education and conservation.
An Animal Keeper is also known as:
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
2. What does an Animal Keeper do?
The Animal Keeper falls within the following Career Categories:
- Animal Care
- Wildlife Conservation
- Zoo, Aquariums, Museums and Amusement Parks
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?
- Cleaning of enclosures.
- Preparing food according to schedule and feeding animals.
- Observes animals to detect illnesses and injuries.
- Answer questions from the public.
- Educate children, either at school or during field trips.
- Transfer animals from one enclosure to another.
- Work with and assist the Veterinary Department.
3. In which environment does an Animal Keeper work in?
What are the environment and places of employment like?
Animal Keepers mostly work outdoors when interacting with the animals, as well as indoors when preparing food and cleaning enclosures.
Places of Employment –
Animal Keepers work at zoos (private or government), amusement parks, large sanctuaries, game farms, and larger aquariums.
What is the Average Salary for an Animal Keeper?
The average salary of Animal Keepers is around US$30,000 per year. Part time workers earn around US$10 to 15 per hour. The income will differ, depending on the country and currency.
Can Animal Keepers be promoted?
Promotion to senior levels are available in all related careers. The levels of each promotion might differ from organization to organization, but generally are the following:
Intern Keeper > Junior Keeper (usually graded in 3 levels 3 to reach Senior) > Senior or Head Keeper > Manager/Director/Curator
More senior animal keepers may also seek employment in more scientific fields (researching on the species they love to work with) after some time and further studies.
What difficulties do Animal Keepers face?
The most difficult part of this career is being able to work with stressed animals. Animals can get difficult and temperamental when they sense a new person in their space. Learning to deal with such animals is important to make Animal Keeper your ideal career. You may also be required to work irregular hours including evenings, weekends, and holidays.
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 minimum qualifications required to enter.
4. 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.
- Critical thinking
- Creative thinking
- Decision making
- Problem Solving
- Effective communication
- Interpersonal relationship
- 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
5. 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!
6. 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.
Degree in Animal Management, biology, animal science, zoology, behavioral sciences, or other related fields. If there is a specific species you want to work with, then it is also best to focus your studies on it.
Short Courses –
Courses in animal management, animal behaviour or animal first aid will be a benefit.
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 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.
Stepping Stone career paths:
Animal Keeper can also be used as a stepping stone career. A stepping stone career is one which is used to help you get to another career, normally because the other career is too difficult to reach immediately (high fees etc).
You can begin as an intern animal keeper after basic short courses and expert guidance (maybe working under a mentor at a zoo, aquarium or park). The money made can then be used to pay for studies towards a promotion or another career, and the experience helps in gaining knowledge. One paying to help get to the other.
Some of the possible paths:
Training and Apprenticeship:
Even though it is important to study to get into some of the animal caregiver careers, most of required skills will be acquired through on-the-job training. This means that you will learn how to perform some of the daily tasks by actually doing it a few times and learning the steps.
In some cases entry level positions (or junior positions) require training sessions even before you are allowed to actually perform your job duties. These sessions are offered by the place of employment, after you have successfully applied.
Apprenticeship is also possible where you need to learn skills from a more senior person or expert. The more hands on careers, such as animal grooming might require apprenticeship.
Join the Animal Keeper Group in STEP 7 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:
7. Licenses, Certifications, Registrations and Professional Associations
Although certain animal caregiver careers do require some form of legal certification to prove that you can indeed do the work, and do it well, it’s not generally required to become an animal keeper.
Many places of employment will require a drivers licenses for keepers that might have to transport animals.
Learn more about these specific requirements by joining the Animal Keeper Group in the One Zoo Tree Community.
7. 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
Join the OZT Community
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.
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