Want to be a Zookeeper? Hear Devon’s Experience Working in the Field
Do you love animals? Considering a career in zoology? We speak to a zookeeper about how she stepped into the profession.
To find out more about the exciting field of zoology, we spoke to Devon Nicholls, who has worked with birds as a Zookeeper for over five years.
She gave us insight into how to become a Zookeeper, what skills are needed for Zookeepers and what the job is like on a day-to-day basis.
How to turn a passion into a career
The role of Zookeeper is a job that most people become aware of at a young age. As most of us love the idea of looking after weird and wonderful creatures, stepping into this role is an enticing thought for many.
If you already have a passion for animals, Devon says that this can be the spark you need to break into this job role. She attributes her love for animals as her driving factor to step into this career.
“I’ve always been fascinated with animals,” she said, “The natural world and conservation since I was very young. Learning more as I got older only emphasised this fascination.”
Becoming qualified in Zoology
There are a number of ways to become a Zookeeper. Zoology courses can give you the skills and knowledge needed to step into the role. For some working in this role, gaining experience and learning on the job can be an option as well.
You’ll need to have a good understanding of the management of zoo and aquarium animals, an interest in animal health and conservation work, and enclosure safety, which can be learned through qualifications, work placements, or apprenticeships.
Zookeepers can work in a wide variety of different work environments throughout their career. Once you have the skills needed to move into this role, you could look for work at animal sanctuaries, wildlife parks, zoos, animal care and conservationist facilities, or other settings.
You might also work part-time or on seasonal contracts depending on the number of vacancies in this area of interest. If you speak another language aside from English, you may even be able to find work abroad in some of the world’s best zoos.
Devon explained how she completed a related degree and then specialised in captive wild animal management. She credits a significant amount of her learning to on-the-job experience and theory learned from her qualifications.
“I volunteered as a keeper assistant before applying for a casual role and also spent regular work experience days on-site as part of my course,” she said, “A lot of my skills I’ve learned on the job, and I’m constantly learning many years in.”
Can you pivot to Zoology from another role?
After starting a career in a certain field, some may be tempted to see whether they could rekindle their passion for animals and move into a career in Zoology. This can be a solid career change, and some Zoology courses can even be taken on with no prior experience or qualifications in the area.
Devon pointed out that anyone with a background in a science-based degree or role could be in a good position to move into Zoology.
“In general, a science degree plus some practical experience is helpful at getting a start in the industry,” she said, “Internships and volunteer positions are a great foot in the door, if you can’t get into a zoo straight away, somewhere like a local animal shelter or wildlife rescue is a start to animal husbandry and management.”
Those who have already completed or are planning to complete animal healthcare courses or vet assistant courses could be well placed to move into a career as a Zookeeper. Experience and knowledge in this area will mean that you’ll likely be able to complete many of the day-to-day tasks required to succeed in a Zookeeper role.
Meanwhile, those with experience in animal welfare, animal behaviour, or animal science may be able to pivot into this area.
Learning the necessary skills to become a Zookeeper
Although being able to care for animals is a key part of being a Zookeeper, there are a wide variety of other skills that those in this profession will need to succeed. Being good with people is just as important as being good with animals and good communication skills are essential, as Devon points out.
“While many people come into the industry thinking it’s focused on animals, a big part of the job involves engaging with people,” she said. “Talking to visitors, teaching them about our animals and getting them passionate about conservation and what actions they can take is a key part of the job and can be a highlight of my day, particularly when it’s an animal they didn’t know much about or expect to engage with”.
Aside from that, having a can-do attitude and being open to physical work is important as well. “Having a reasonably good level of fitness and a strong work ethic is essential,” she says, “It’s a physical job with long days, so a decent level of stamina is needed to fill the role.”
What’s an average day like for a zookeeper?
The tasks of a Zookeeper can vary from day to day, as Devon explains.
“Having good initiative and adaptability is important in a job where animals, weather, staffing, and priorities can change day to day,” she said. “One day is never like the last, which makes for a dynamic workplace, making things interesting but also creating challenges, so you need to be able to think on your feet.”
In her role, she has tasks to complete related to keeping animals safe and healthy and taking on numerous other tasks throughout the day.
“As a bird keeper, my daily responsibilities include looking after the health and welfare of the birds on my round, making diets and enrichment, feeding out, cleaning and maintaining animal habitats, and monitoring breeding programmes. I also spend time engaging with the public through scheduled keeper talks and impromptu chats, maintain records and contribute to animal research and conservation,” she said.
Is being a Zookeeper a fun and rewarding?
Although that might sound like a lot of work, Devon and other Zookeepers love the role for its variety as well as its caring and fulfilling nature.
It can be a highly rewarding career path and is a unique and fascinating field. Although it can be a competitive area to find work, Zookeepers like Devon prove that with hard work, you can turn a passion into a full-time career.
She shared why she loves the role in more detail, “I enjoy the variability of each day, constantly learning from people and animals and being involved in conservation projects within the zoo and wider environment,” Devon said.