Zookeeper job description

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If you would like a career as a Zoologist, take a look at How To Become a Zoologist.

Mark is a zoo keeper employed by the Zoological Society of London. He is an animal activities team leader, training animals such as birds of prey and organising demonstrations, as well as overseeing the day-to-day management of more than 70 animals.

What does your job involve?

I manage a team of about 15 staff and over 70 animals, organising and initiating enrichment ideas for the animals, animal training and public demonstrations. I also liaise with other departments, such as the promotions and marketing offices that promote the zoo to the public.

What is your main work routine?

Some aspects of the day are routine, such as recording the previous day's events on a daily report sheet and checking out any problems with the zoo staff who look after the animals. Generally, no two days are ever the same. At present, we are redeveloping a large section of the zoo, so I'm involved in meetings to discuss how we are going to look after the animals while the area is being developed and new premises are built.

What equipment do you use in your work as a Zookeeper?

I use a range of equipment that includes items such as brooms, shovels, buckets, bins, knives, gauntlets, lures, telephones, computers, pens and paper. Some of these are used for cleaning out the animals' premises, others for handling the animals and the rest for administrative purposes in the office.

Are the animals easy to handle?

How2Become - Zoologist

Not always. Once a young falcon flew away during a training session. The following morning I thought I saw it sitting on a church roof. I went over with a colleague and some food and began calling, but it wouldn't respond to my training calls. It was quite embarrassing as a crowd had gathered. Otherwise, all the animals get used to a routine for cleaning, feeding and exercise and, as a keeper, you allow them to get used to you by remaining calm and quiet.

Have you always liked animals and nature?

Yes. When I was young, I was always looking for toads, slow worms, snakes and spiders in the garden. Also, I had gone on a falconry course and worked with lots of reptile species long before I started at the zoo.

What training have you done in this job?

All new keepers now study for a City & Guilds Certificate in Animal Management, learning about nutrition, enclosure design, hygiene and safety, breeding, transporting animals, diseases and the role of zoos in conservation, education and research.

What hours do you work?

I start at 8.00am and finish at 5.30pm during the summer months, but finish earlier at 4.00pm throughout the winter - averaging about 38 hours a week over the year. I also work alternate weekends but get time off to compensate during the week.

What are the best and worst things about the job?

I love working with a wide variety of animal species and with like-minded people. The downside is that we get more involved in office work now - and that means less time being with the animals.

What are the skills and qualities needed to be a Zookeeper?

Confidence and patience are very important when working with animals and the public, plus a real interest in what you are doing.

What are your long-term work plans?

My current position is fairly new for me at the moment and I don't want to think about the next step until I have fully grasped this one. However, I worked in the Amazon basin as a research biologist last year and would certainly consider doing that again.

Mark's route to becoming a Zoo keeper

  • A levels.
  • Degree in Animal Biology.
  • First job as zookeeper at London Zoo.

Mark's Zookeeper tips

  • If you are passionate about doing this as a career give yourself a head start - become a volunteer and gain as much experience as you can.
  • Work hard. The more you put into this job the more you get out of it.

Zookeeper related jobs

  • Agricultural/biological/horticultural scientist
  • Countryside/conservation officer
  • Countryside ranger/warden
  • Farm manager
  • Gamekeeper
  • RSPCA inspector

Zookeeper salary information

  • A trainee zoo keeper will earn £14,000 a year.
  • A team leader or senior keeper can reach a salary of £22,000.
  • A uniform is usually provided and accommodation is sometimes available.

A career as a Zookeeper

  • Most zoos, safari/wildlife parks, sea-life centres, bird gardens and conservation/nature organisations have volunteer programmes or offer work experience, part-time and seasonal jobs. This gives people the chance to work with animals or as part of a conservation project to see if the work really suits them.
  • Although a few zoos require no particular qualifications, others may ask for some GCSEs/S grades to include a science subject or qualifications/experience in Animal Care.
  • Qualifications in zoological/wildlife subjects, animal care and management include NVQs/SVQs, HNCs/HNDs, foundation degrees and degrees, and are necessary for advancement to senior positions.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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