It’s no surprise zoos prefer to hire people who already have zookeeping experience, but how do you get that experience?
Fortunately there are many ways to go about it, because experience with any sort of animals, not just wildlife, is highly valued, and the animal industry provides lots of opportunities for you to get involved without needing to find yourself a paid position first.
How to get experience with animals
Zoos –Find out what options for unpaid work are available at zoos near you, such as volunteer work, work experience, junior keeper programs and internships.
Wildlife rehabilitation –Become a wildlife carer and learn how to rehabilitate injured animals. Contact wildlife care groups in your area for advice on getting started.
Wildlife hospital ambulance –driver Volunteer as a driver for a wildlife hospital. You’ll gain invaluable experience handling wild animals under stressful conditions.
Voluntourism – Take a volunteering vacation and spend your holiday working with wildlife, such as the orangutans in Borneo or cheetahs in South Africa.
Shelters –Work or volunteer at an animal shelter or wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Pets –In many parts of the world you can keep an array of native and exotic wildlife as pets, allowing you to gain first-hand experience in their care. Some zoos breed their own rodents to feed to their reptiles, so knowledge in their care and husbandry is also useful. Even owning more run-of-the-mill pets such as dogs, cats or birds teaches you a lot of the basics of animal care and shows that you truly are an animal lover, so don’t hesitate to mention your pets on your resume!
Other branches of the animal care industry – Get experience, either paid or unpaid, at a vet surgery, horse stable, dog kennel, cattery or farm.
Other types of experience that will make you a better zookeeper
Attractions and theme parks – Experience in the attractions industry is also valuable, because zookeepers don’t just deal with the animals in their care, they deal with the zoo visitors as well. Good customer relations skills are very important for all zoo staff.
Horticulture and grounds keeping –The reality is that zookeepers spend a lot of time maintaining enclosures, often more than they spend interacting with animals, which means a whole lot of raking, mowing, watering plants and trimming branches, so any experience you have in this area is sure to be put to good use.
Public speaking – Experience with public speaking is also an advantage. While some zoos have staff whose specific job is to present the daily wildlife shows, in most zoos this task falls to the keepers.
Find out what to expect from volunteering in a zoo.