Work in a Zoo
Zoo work is a demanding and more specialist career than some other jobs with animals. It must be fully appreciated that the animals in the care of zookeepers and their assistants are wild animals; not domestic pets.
Why do we Have Zoos?Zoos are supported for several reasons:
- To aid the conservation of endangered species through study
- To establish breeding programmes for animal species under threat
- The management of captive populations assists their survival in natural habitats
Zoos give the public a chance to see animals in surroundings that are designed to be as close as possible to the animals’ natural habitats. This can help to educate people in the importance of conservation, our responsibility for the environment, and the real threat of extinction to some species. These issues are global as well as local.
What Background Does a Zookeeper Need?For a 16-year-old to be considered for this type of work, experience in looking after animals is necessary, and the candidate would preferably be a student who has worked hard at school (particularly in Science and definitely in Biology!).
A proven record of voluntary work in animal care/conservation will improve their chances too, as this shows genuine commitment. If a person has already taken instruction and has qualifications in animal care/animal husbandry, their chance of being accepted are even better. This type of work is much sought after!
What Does a Zookeeper Do?Although cleaning and feeding the animals are two of the most time-consuming duties involved, they are, by no means, what the job is all about. Zookeepers, and those who work with them, need to have high standards of personal hygiene-for the obvious reason that they might carry infections.
All the animals’ equipment and feeding/drinking utensils must be kept scrupulously clean and enclosures/bedding maintained to high standards...inall weathers! Animals need consistently good care all year round.
The normal behavioural patterns for each animal will be studied and known by their keepers. This is a very important factor in the psychological well-being of the animals. A good keeper can soon spot any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour and take the appropriate action-by informing the zoo manager or curator.
There are, necessarily, stringent Health and Safety regulations in place in zoos. Certain procedures must be followed at all times when dealing with the animals.
Keepers need to have a good attitude-especially to the animals they care for, but also when dealing with the public. In a zoo this is much of the time! Zookeepers are oftenexpected to give talks to the public and should be capable of answering questions posed.
As most zookeepers are there because of their dedication to animals (definitely not high wages) these sessions are something they actively encourage and usually enjoy. A lot can be learnt by listening to these talks and asking questions.
ProspectsZookeepers can specialise by doing degrees in zoology and other animal-related subjects, whatever their preference. (Birds, reptiles, mammals). Once sufficient experience and relevant qualifications have been acquired, they may becomeauthorities on their chosen species and help to promote sustainable populations of species and their habitats.
Zoo vets may choose to specialise even more by studying the health, behaviour, genetics and breeding of animals of captive animals in order to help the survival of the remaining wild populations of endangered animals. Zoos carry out valuable conservation research, so there are varied openings for the committed worker.