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A zookeeper is a person who takes care of animals in a zoo or wild animal park. By maintaining the exhibit, providing toys for enrichment, and tending to animals' needs, he or she can help keep animals safe and happy while providing public education about conservation and biology. People who perform this job often contribute to animal research and re-population efforts, and may form close bonds with their animal charges.
To become a zookeeper, a blend of education and practical experience is often required. Many animal workers attend several years of college, typically studying conservation, biology, or animal science. Some have training as veterinarians or have worked as veterinary assistants. Some start out volunteering at zoos when they are quite young, working their way to positions of greater responsibility that allow more contact with the animals.
A zookeeper may serve as a link between the animal park and the public, providing education about their animals to visitors. This important job allows keepers to instill love and respect for animals in visitors, which can be vitally important to the spread of conservation and the protection of wild animal species. Some also become animal trainers, teaching their charges tricks and stunts to entertain viewers. Training animals is somewhat controversial, but many people who do it suggest that animal shows help the species overall by making people care about the creatures.
Although this profession may sound like a perfect job for any animal lover, it is a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking occupation. Animals require constant care and feeding, which may mean that keepers must work overnight or on weekends. Large animals go to the bathroom quite a bit, meaning that cleaning up excrement is a major part of the daily job. Additionally, although animals in captivity often live longer than their wild counterparts, they are subject to illness and death, which can be greatly upsetting to a keeper who has raised them.
Even though the animals are captive, it is important for people to bear in mind that they are still wild animals. All animals can behave unpredictably, even wounding or killing individuals who have had a close relationship with them. It is important to remember that zoo animals are not pets; they are often quite dangerous and need to be respected and handled with care and caution.
Although the job can be messy, exhausting, and even dangerous, many zookeepers would not trade their unique job for anything else. The chance to work and care for animals is, for some, the job of a lifetime.