Zookeepers care for animals in zoo facilities. Their primary responsibilities include care of the animals, feeding them the proper diet, and maintaining enclosures. Zookeeper jobs require frequent public and media contact, as well as education. General positions may care for different types of animals at a small facility, or specialized jobs that work with certain kinds of animals, such as reptiles or primates. Specialized zookeeper jobs include aquarists and animal trainers.
Overseeing an animal's diet is one job of the zookeeper, and may include cutting up vegetables and fruits or preparing meat for carnivores. Zookeepers may administer prescribed medicines, and will work closely with the veterinarian to monitor illness and injuries. Fresh water and a clean, safe enclosure are important to animal health, and zookeepers provide both.
Zookeepers must be physically fit to do the hard work required. They may have to courteously discourage visitors from teasing animals or throwing objects at them, so good people skills are an asset. Maturity, an ability to follow procedures, and adaptability are good qualities for zookeeper jobs. Above all, zookeepers must truly love animals and enjoy caring for them.
Specialized zookeeper jobs usually involve a particular type of animal. There are zookeepers who only handle reptiles, primates, fish, or birds. Some may assist researchers who study their charges or conduct their own studies. Often, zookeepers are in charge of the nursery at a zoo and care for orphaned and rejected baby animals. Some zookeepers are employed as animal trainers, and work with animals to perform for zoo patrons.
Other types of jobs available working with animals include curators, who are in charge of the zookeepers and manage the facility’s animal collections. Animal breeders and technicians propagate species to replenish zoo stock and keep their gene pools diverse. There are animal caretaker positions with kennels, horse stables, boarding and rescue centers, and sanctuaries that are similar to zoo work. For-profit exotic animal exhibit facilities also need people to care for animals.
Anyone interested in zookeeper jobs or other animal work should begin by taking numerous science courses in school to learn observation and recording skills. Most zookeepers today have degrees in animal management, zoology, or biology. Many institutions have internships for students involved in animal care programs. In the US, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) will have information on education programs.
Zookeeper jobs are highly sought after and scarce, but there are many ways to diversify. Trainee programs may be available at some smaller facilities and can enable the hopeful applicant to gain experience. Conservation preserves often seek volunteers. Work as a ranch hand, veterinary assistant, or zoo volunteer are valuable experience for an aspiring zookeeper.