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What the job involves
A zookeeper is responsible for maintaining the health, safety and welfare of different types of animals. You are likely to work with a particular type of animal. You will get to know the animals in your care well, allowing you to spot any signs of diseases, stress of injury.
Your day-to-day role will often include cleaning, feeding and medicating animals, checking enclosures and for any signs of damage, and keeping records. You will often be involved in educating members of the public, answering questions about the animals and their natural behaviour and habitat in the wild.
You will need to have a strong interest in animals and conservation and have good observation skills to notice any changes in the animals’ behaviour.
You must be good at communicating with all types of people, from your work colleagues through to members of the public of all ages.
As the role will involve you walking around and doing very manual work for most of the day, you will need to be physically fit.
You will usually be required to work on a shift system including weekends and bank holidays. You may also be part of an on-call rota.
The work is physically demanding and will usually require you working outside for large parts of the day.
Qualifications and training
When you start a job as a zookeeper you will receive on-the-job training. However if you do not have a relevant qualification you will often be encouraged to complete a qualification, such as the Level 2 or 3 Diploma/Apprenticeship in Work-based Animal Care (Zoos and Wildlife Establishments route).
If you are looking at qualifications you could do before securing employment in a zoo, you could look at qualifications such as:
- Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management
- FdSc Integrated Wildlife Conservation
- BSc (Hons) Zoology
- MSc Zoo Conservation Biology
What qualifications do I need to start training as a zookeeper
Often there may not be academic entry requirement to start working as a zookeeper. However, some zoos may require five GCSEs at grade C or above (often including English and Maths) and an animal care qualification.
You may also need a driving license, particularly in safari parks.
Getting into the profession
However, as the work is very competitive anything you can do to enhance your application will help both your application and your ability to do the job. This includes volunteering, previous work experience and animal related qualifications. Zoos and wildlife parks often have volunteer schemes that you can join; these not only give you vital experience but may give you a ‘foot in the door’ should a vacancy arrive.
You can search for zookeeper vacancies on the British & Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) website.
Salary and benefits
Salaries can start at around 10-15k a year and senior keepers can earn up to 25k a year. Salaries vary depending on experience. Figures are intended as a guideline only.
In larger zoos, there may the opportunity to become a head keeper. If you have a degree and/or a significant industry experience you could become a curator; designing animal enclosures and finding new animals from other zoos.
You may also wish to work in education or conservation research.