What Does Zookeeper Do? Information About The Job Role

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 17 August 2022

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If you love spending time and taking care of animals, zookeeping may be a fulfilling career option. With undergraduate degrees in zoology and a few years of experience volunteering at zoos, you get to work with animals and have a prominent role in zoological parks (zoos).

For a career in this field, learn and understand about the job and what it takes to become a zookeeper. In this article, we discuss what does zookeeper do, the skills required, the education you need and how you can start a career in this role.

What Does A Zookeeper Do?

Consider the following information to answer the question, "What does zookeeper do?":

As a zookeeper, you feed, protect and provide basic veterinary care for animals, ensuring they are alive, well-fed and healthy. You work with teams of other zookeepers, zoologists and veterinarians. You may also be a part of teams that observe animals and analyse their health and behaviour. In this role, you can enjoy interacting with unique and exotic animals otherwise unseen in your part of the country.

Who Employs Zookeepers?

The primary employers of zookeepers are zoos. You can also find work at research facilities, aquariums and animal rehabilitation centres. Any institution that works with live animals needs someone to take professional care of them, which means they require qualified zookeepers.

The Daily Responsibilities Of A Zookeeper

Daily tasks for zookeepers vary slightly according to where they work. For example, the focus is on keeping animals healthy and ready for display at a zoo, while a research facility may have other priorities. The common responsibilities of zookeepers wherever they work include:

1. Keeping animals fed

One of the primary duties of a zookeeper is preparing diets and feeding schedules for all the animals under your care. You may work on creating appropriate diets or feeding timings yourself to make sure that animals are fed on a schedule given to you. This involves ordering food and overseeing its collection from the respective vendors. Each day, you may oversee the supply of animal food such as pellets, fresh produce, meat or hay.

2. Grooming animals

Grooming is a key part of keeping animals healthy. It also helps the animals look ready for display. Aesthetic value is important at visitor-friendly facilities like zoos. Grooming means cleaning and trimming fur and washing animals.

3. Keeping animals healthy

You may work with a veterinarian to ensure that animals in your care are healthy. This includes administering tranquillizers to sedate an injured animal for treatment or assisting with births. When animal health experts conduct clinical studies, you may leverage your animal handling expertise and assist them.

4. Cleaning enclosures

Zookeepers are tasked with keeping animal enclosures clean, free of germs and secure. These come in a range of shapes and sizes, from small enclosures to large natural spaces enclosed by moats. Maintenance varies accordingly. You may look at all the enclosures to identify signs of wear and raise suitable requests for repair and maintenance. With smaller enclosures, you may have to clean them yourself.

5. Interacting with animals

One of the key aspects of your zookeeper role is monitoring animals to identify changes in their behaviour. The role teaches you how to identify signs that an animal in your care is sick, injured or distressed. Since you work with animals in captivity that typically live longer than in the wild, they are more likely to fall sick. Other ways to interact with animals typically include games and other physical exercises to keep them healthy.

6. Training animals

In zoos, you train animals so that they allow keepers to groom them and doctors to take care of them when they fall sick. You may use a combination of hand signals, spoken commands and other methods to communicate with them and teach them to perform a certain behaviour. Since wild animals are unpredictable, this sort of training is necessary for their safety and that of the people who have to interact with them. Be well prepared and careful, as training them can be dangerous because of the same unpredictability.

7. Educate visitors

As part of your job, you may interact with people who visit your zoo. You also educate visitors on how you take care of the animals and give them other useful and educational information like the animal's natural habitat, feeding habits and extinction status. You can do this through informal conversations or formal live demonstrations and presentations throughout the day.

How To Become A Zookeeper

Before you can start applying for jobs, gain the necessary educational qualification and some job experience. The following steps show you how you can become a zookeeper, from picking a group in class XII to applying for jobs and getting hired:

1. Complete your school education

To become a zookeeper, pick your class XII subjects accordingly. Select a science group, which typically covers subjects like zoology. If you have any specific colleges in mind, check their admission criteria. Some colleges only take in students who score above a specified percentage.

2. Earn an undergraduate degree

Most zookeepers have undergraduate degrees like a B.Sc. Pick a course that covers animal-related topics, such as biology or zoology. Make sure the course you pick contains relevant topics like anatomy, physiology, animal behaviour and reproductive physiology. This can help you gain enough knowledge to interact with animals daily. For example, anatomy helps you understand animals' bodies, which is useful when you assist an attending veterinary doctor. Animal behaviour helps you adjust your interaction according to specific animals.

3. Gain relevant work experience

Some employers look for people who have a few years of experience in a related field when hiring for a zookeeper's position. Leverage any time you have during your undergraduate to volunteer or intern at zoological parks, veterinary clinics, kennels, stables, aquariums or a rehabilitation facility. This sets you apart from other candidates with similar educational qualifications and skill sets.

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include On A Resume (With Examples)

4. Apply for jobs

First, create a resume that clearly lists your qualifications and all your relevant skills and experience. Make sure that someone reading it can see your passion for working with animals. Look for job openings by searching online, through newspapers, your college's network, visiting zoos, other facilities and asking if they have any openings for qualified zookeepers.

Related: How To Apply For A Job In 6 Steps (With Tips)

5. Build a professional network

If you want a successful career as a zookeeper, do not stop once you get your first job. Reach out to fellow professionals so you can help each other build knowledge and share job opportunities. If a prospective employer tells you that there are no available openings, stay in touch with them. Having such a professional network of fellow zookeepers, highly experienced professionals and prospective employers is a valuable asset.

Related: Top 7 Networking Skills (How To Develop And Highlight Them)

Skills Of A Zookeeper

To work closely with animals, develop these skills:

  • Patience: As a zookeeper, you work with wild animals that are not trained to behave a certain way. Develop the skill of understanding animal body language. This way, you can tell if an animal is agitated and take suitable precautions to protect yourself.

  • Physical fitness: Zookeeping involves a lot of moving around. Depending on the animal habitat and layout of the facility, you may have to walk, jog, kneel or even crawl to reach functional areas like feeding troughs. You may also have to lift heavy objects like buckets of water, bales of hay and other heavy animal food.

  • People skills: As a zookeeper, you are in charge of keeping both animals and their visitors safe and comfortable. Learn to interact with people and how to handle rudeness masterfully. Part of your job may be to give presentations and star in daily shows at the zoo. Therefore, people skills are extremely valuable.

  • Attention to detail: Since the health of animals at the facility is your responsibility, pay close attention to detail. Learn to watch for signs that an animal is underfed or unhealthy and you can give it the right care before it falls sick. You also carefully measure portions of food and medicines.

Related: Soft Skills: Definitions And Examples

What Are The Working Conditions Like?

Zookeeper jobs are mostly full-time opportunities. You may work around eight to ten hours each day and work extra hours if an animal is sick or needs special care. As a zookeeper, you are most likely required to work over weekends and public holidays as more people visit zoos and other open-to-public facilities at this time. Most zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are in rural or semi-rural locations. Since there are many responsibilities, expect to exert yourself physically through long walks and occasional heavy lifting.

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