Many people think that being a zookeeper is the best job possible, since they get to work with and care for amazing animals. There are only so many zoos in the world, however, and only so many jobs. These careers involve a lot more than spending time with the animals, and require an understanding animal behavior, following specific rules for animal care, and lots and lots of cleaning up after them.
Since there are more would-be zookeepers than jobs available, it’s important to start working toward getting your ideal position as soon as possible. If you live in a major city, it’s quite likely you have a zoo where you can volunteer. If you don’t, then work on volunteering at humane shelters, or look for private wildlife reservations where you can give your time.
Often, zoos welcome volunteers in their early teens, though jobs with more responsibility may be held for kids who are 16 years or older. Some facilities offer one week summer camps to train those who would like a career with animals. If you can’t work at a zoo close to your home, consider saving up for one of these camps. Volunteering and experience with animals is an essential quality for getting hired.
Even before middle school and high school, begin studying and reading everything you can about wildlife, and subscribe to a few quality wildlife magazines. Work hard in science classes and speech courses. As a zookeeper, you will need to have a good background in animal science, but you may also need to make presentations to visitors to the zoo, so good speaking skills are a must.
There are few colleges that offer degrees in zookeeping; in the US, there are only four. You can focus on animal science, zoology, marine biology (if you are interested in aquatic parks), and animal behavior and psychology. You might even want to ask a nearby zoo what qualities they look for in employees, and what type of employees they hire. This can help you direct your choice of college toward the schools best geared toward helping you fulfill your dream.
While in college, don’t forget to keep volunteering at zoos or shelters. In fact, you may want to choose a college close to a major zoo, so you can get impressive volunteer credentials and superior training.
In addition to lots of experience and a good education, a zookeeper must be physically fit. Your job will not involve a lot of sitting, so keep yourself in good shape, and practice some weight lifting. When feeding animals or cleaning cages, you may be required to lift as much as 50 pounds (22.67 kg) on a regular basis.
Be prepared to work flexible hours. People with jobs in zoos often work every day of the week, and may work a swing shift or midnight shift, since animals need around the clock care.
You should be able to work well on your own, but also work well in a team. "Zookeeper" is a general term for many different types of jobs in a zoo, and can include specialists in animal behavior, nutritionists, and some veterinarians. Other support staff members round out the team. You will need to maintain good relationships with everyone on the team so the animals get the best possible care.