How to Become a Zookeeper
Interested in wildlife conservation and know a thing or two about animal behaviour? You might not have considered that your dream job could be in zoology, but there are plenty of reasons why it might be.
What does a Zookeeper do?
It’s not the most traditional career path – but a zookeeper plays an essential role in animal care and wildlife conservation. If you’re interested in wild animals, it’s a great way to get up close and personal with them.
Crucially, zookeepers help to protect endangered species and to educate the public about animal behaviour.
A zookeeper has many different duties, many of which directly involve animal care. For example, zookeepers prepare food and feed it to their charges, clean out animal enclosures, and check the animals for signs of illness or distress.
However, some of their duties are more tangential. Zookeepers need to monitor enclosures to make sure they’re safe and sturdy, keep regular animal welfare records, and work with vets to ensure the animals get the care they need when sick.
On top of that, more experienced zookeepers often run educational workshops, often to children, and present talks to zoo visitors. They can also work in supervisory roles, mentoring more junior zookeepers.
Zookeepers can be employed in zoos, aquariums, and even safari parks.
What qualifications are needed to become a Zookeeper?
There are no formal qualifications required to become a zookeeper. You might find that employers expect you to hold some GCSEs in grades 9-4 (A* – C), especially in English and a scientific subject.
Demonstrable interest in wildlife and its conservation is also useful, and many zoos prefer candidates who have experience working with animals. Several organisations run volunteer schemes at wildlife parks and zoos to help people gain work experience.
Though you don’t have to be a zoologist, an expert in wild animals and their habitats, to be a zookeeper, you might find it’s easiest to get the job if you have a little training.
It does differ from zoo to zoo. Some will happily take on junior zookeepers with no further education and train them on the job.
However, this can be a surprisingly competitive field, so a course might give you the edge over other candidates.
There are degrees you can do in zoology, zoo management, or animal conservation, as well as degrees in biology and veterinary science, which will serve aspiring zookeepers well.
But an undergraduate degree isn’t the only way into zookeeping. A foundation degree or high national diploma in the same subjects will work just as well.
Similarly, a zookeeping apprenticeship is a viable way into the profession, as is a college course in a related subject. Already left college and don’t fancy heading to uni? An online zoology course is a great way to stand out from the crowd.
What’s the best route to becoming a Zookeeper?
The best route into zookeeping really depends on your preferences! There are several paths into the career – though all of them require hands-on work and the ability to work with animals.
Via working or volunteer work
If you’re already working in a zoo but want to take the next step and become a zookeeper, you can complete a DMZAA – a Diploma in Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals.
You can also volunteer to get experience working with animals. You could do this at a zoo, wildlife centre, or animal shelter, but any hands-on experience is good. That means that time spent volunteering at kennels, farms or stables will also hold you in good stead.
Of course, there are other skills associated with being a zookeeper – so any work experience you have that gives you the transferable skills mentioned below is useful.
Via an apprenticeship
An intermediate apprenticeship in animal care and welfare could see you getting a trainee keeper role at a zoo. Apprenticeships balance practical experience with in-class learning, so you get a rounded sense of the industry.
There are also advanced and higher apprenticeships available if you want to progress your career or move into a more niche area of zookeeping.
Entry requirements for intermediate apprenticeships usually include some GCSEs, including maths and English.
Via college or other courses
If you’ve finished GCSEs but aren’t quite ready to get into the world of work just yet, don’t worry – there are plenty of college-level courses you can take to prepare you for an illustrious career in zookeeping.
Biology A-Level is one way to demonstrate an interest in the natural world. You could also take a diploma in animal care, animal management, or animal science.
Of course, courses aren’t just for school leavers. The ICI’s Zoology Executive Diploma requires no previous qualifications and can be started at any time.
As mentioned above, any course indicating an interest in the natural world is an advantage when it comes to zookeeping.
That includes bachelor’s degree courses like biology, animal conservation, and zoology. There are plenty of other options, too!
What skills does a Zookeeper need?
Aside from a Dr Doolittle-like affinity for animals, zookeepers have to have a range of other skills. These can be intrinsic, learned, or picked up from previous roles.
Zookeeping can be a customer-facing role, so customer service skills are highly valued – especially if they mean you can stay calm under pressure.
Observation skills and attention to detail is also crucial: zookeepers need to be the first to know when something isn’t right with the zoo animals or the habitats. Equally, verbal communication skills are helpful for indicating issues quickly and presenting talks to members of the public.
Keeping animals’ welfare records is also essential, so knowing your way around charts doesn’t hurt.
And with everyone moving their marketing online nowadays, some social media skills don’t go amiss either!
How much does a Zookeeper earn?
The average starter salary for zookeeper jobs is around £14,000 per year for a full-time role. This can vary based on experience and area of the country.
On average, experienced zookeepers earn around £25,000 per year, potentially rising as you gain even more experience.