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Zoo Keeping Careers


NOTE : Before I start I would suggest that if you are intent on a zoo career that you subscribe to ZooNews Digest for weekly information on what is happening in the zoo world: ZooNews Digest:
If you would like to see some of the most up to date Zoo Employment opportunities on offer then go to: Zoo Jobs:

Much of the information presented here is 'international'... relevant wherever you are, but it does have a slightly British bias. Efforts have been made to point those in other countries in the right direction. Following the links you should help you to find all the information you require.

Before you read further. Are you really sure that a Zoo Keeping Career is what you are after? It is not like other jobs because it is not simply work. It is a vocation, a way of life. Forget about making money, forget about becoming famous, forget about 9 to 5 and long holidays. Be prepared to face extreme cold or intense heat, rain, hail, snow, gales and lack of sleep. You are guaranteed to work long hard days when you have a hangover or headache and would have much preferred to have stayed at home in bed. It is highly likely you will have to skip holidays or days off at a moments notice. Don’t expect applaud or thanks or even sympathy because you will not get any.

Still Interested

then read on. 

What you will get is job satisfaction. The chance to contribute to our understanding of animals and an important role in ensuring that they remain on this planet for future generations to enjoy. You will have the chance to work outdoors in the best of weather too, when those in other lines of work are shut up in their suffocating offices. You will become a member of a big zoo `family`, assured of a welcome wherever you go. Whereas there will be repetition in your daily routine, no two days will be exactly the same. You will not get bored. You will become party to one of the worlds best kept secret.... that zoo keeping is the worlds best profession! You will feel good about yourself. Well most of the time anyway. Why take my word for it, try volunteering! Forge some friendships. Ask keepers about their work. Say Peter Dickinson sent you! For answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about zoos please visit the following site and follow the links from there to read related informed articles:

Zoo Information:

You may after all this want to learn more. Then please see the suggested accompanying essential reading list:

Still curious? Do a Google search for "zoo keeper for a day". There are dozens of opportunities out there.

Getting work as a zoo keeper today is something of a ‘Catch 22 situation. Most advertisements you will see will ask for somebody with a certificate in Zoo Animal Management. They will also ask for a certain number of years experience and refer to a specific vacancy i.e. Primate Keeper, Elephant Keeper or similar.

The problem with getting a certificate in Zoo Animal Management is that is only obtainable on successful completion of the practical part Animal Management Course and the only way to complete the course is to be working in a zoo. This is because there is a practical element for which regular assessment is essential. Ideally the course is to be taken over two years plus. .

When the original course first came into existence things were very difficult. In recent years the situation has eased greatly with many colleges throughout the UK offering courses. .

Some of these can be found here: .

University of Salford
Reaseheath College
Nottingham Trent University
Hartpury College
University of Plymouth
Sparsholt College
University of Greenwich
University of Lincoln
And for the very best International information from Alex Mohr

Zoos obtain their staff by several different approaches :

1/ By advertising primarily in ZooNews Digest:
and magazines and newspapers like `Cage & Aviary Birds`, `New Scientist`, `Ratel`, ` International Zoo News` or other specialised journals or the local press.

2/ By referring to unsolicited application letters held on file.

3/ By promoting trainees to full time positions.

4/ By internal promotion from other departments i.e. horticulture.

5/ By taking on volunteers or temporary employees who have shown potential.


Some zoos will use all of these methods dependent on the posts they are trying to fill. Though they are few in number there are one or two collections which will not take on staff who have worked anywhere else. These zoo directors prefer to have inexperienced employees which they can train in house. Typically they have a high turnover, though this is not evident as most of the staff are taken on locally and so not widely advertised.


As more university graduates appear on the already saturated job market more and more keeper positions are being taken up by them. Zoodirectors will usually overlook the lack of practical experience or zoo qualifications in favour of a suitable degree. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The zoo keeping profession has never been accepted as such. The old stereotype of s@*t shoveller is still there. It is looked upon as a job of work akin to farming. Apart from sharing animal husbandry as a major part of the work the similarity ends. Farming is profit motivated, Zoo Keeping is not. Hopefully as the academic calibre of the average keeper rises due to graduate input there may be more of a shift towards an official and well deserved recognition of Keeping as a Profession.


Improving your chances of getting a Keeper job.

Although most zoos will be looking for experienced and academically able staff you can improve your chances by amassing various other skills. If you already have keepering experience then so much the better, however the following will be a big help.

(a) Get yourself a driving license. It is surprising how often zoos will need a driver, it is often asked for in advertisements for keepers, particularly by smaller zoos.

(b) Learn to drive a tractor. Again this is something many keepers have to learn to do. If you are already versed in the art in reversing a trailer you get yourself an extra point.

(c) Learn First Aid. Any attraction which is open to the public needs a first aider, someone accredited by the Red Cross or St Johns Ambulance in the First Aid at work course. Zoos have to pay to train their own staff. This costly in both time and money so if you have already got this potential employers will look more favourably upon you.

(d) Learn to shoot. Get yourself a firearm certificate. Any zoo which holds large and/or dangerous animals will be required to have a procedure for dangerous animal escape. This will normally involve the use of fireams. If you already have a certificate this is another plus.

(e) Become computer literate. Although larger zoos will have their own records officer the smaller zoos usually do not. Being familiar with a computer and the main software packages would stand you in good stead.

(f) Build up a range of useful skills. Take a look at the various short term courses advertised by zoos or other animal related organisations. `Practical Incubation` would be an extremely useful one and is generally run each year.

(g) If time and money are no object then some very useful courses are run by the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust i.e. The Jersey Summer School or their Certificate in Endangered Species Management. Demand for places are high so get your name down early. Similar courses are run periodically by Edinburgh zoo.

(h) Get some experience in wildlife rehabilitation. Ask the RSPCA for the address of nearest rehabber. These people could do with the help, so the benefits go both ways.

(i) Look at seasonal zoo employment. Many of the larger zoos will take on temporary employees during the summer. Although there is no guarantee of you being kept on full time, it is possible, it has happened.

(J) Think about 'volunteering' at a conservation project abroad. I actually hate the word 'volunteer' being used in such a context because you generally pay through the nose to help out. At the end of the day though it does get you experience and looks very good on a CV.

(K) Become involved. If a particular species holds your interest, find out if there is a Taxon Advisory Group for it. Check out the chairperson and volunteer to do research on behalf of the TAG. Most of the people involved are overstretched and could do with the help. It is a toe on the ladder, and if you prove useful it may mean moving up a few rungs.


How do I take an Animal Management Course if I am not working in a zoo?

Anyone can take the course. You have decide which one is the best for you so check out the college links above. Then it can be as simple as of paying out your money and working through it at a pace that suits yourself. You may find once you have started in that it is not what you thought it was after all and therefore you have not lost anything but a bit of cash.

If you do find it interesting and would like to go on to taking the exam then it is essential that you get work in a zoo so that you can be practically assessed. You will also have to find someone in that zoo who is prepared to act as your zoo tutor and carry out the practical assessments.

This is a major stumbling block for young people with zoo career aspirations, particularly if there are no zoos in their locale. I can’t pretend that there is an easy answer to this one. Even if there is a zoo down the road it may not be in a position to take you on as a volunteer. Because volunteer you must, to make up the time and gain the experience for your practical assessments. This is going to mean at least one day per week over a period of two or more years. It is not going to be easy, but where there is a will there is a way. I know a lot of keepers who started out just this way. Giving up their work, moving away, getting part time employment somewhere else or selling their homes or cars to pay their keep. In one case living in a tent whilst they trained. These people did it! Fulfilled their dreams. You could too. Perhaps the measures you take do not have to be so drastic. There are number of colleges up and down the country which have links with zoos, or are situated quite close to one. These colleges may offer animal related courses, `Animal Care`, `Equine Studies` or something similar. Okay its not what you are after but it is of help. Enrolling on such a course may mean you can move, albeit temporarily, close to a zoo which may be prepared to offer you the voluntary work you so much need..

Give some serious consideration to taking up an entirely unrelated job within the zoo industry. Working on the car park, as a gardener, selling ice-cream or as a cashier perhaps. If the powers that be know you are keen to work with the animals and you are seen to be reliable and hard working you are in with just that bit of a extra chance.

If you know of any useful links or openings which I have missed, please let me know

Some useful Addresses

International Zoo News
KW17 2PS
United Kingdom
Cage & Aviary Birds
IPC Magazines Ltd
King`s Reach Tower
Stamford Street
Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust
International Training Centre
Les Augres Manor
Channel Islands

Any comments or questions to :

Peter Dickinson

CV/Resume & Interview Preparation

Assuming you have got this far you are probably genuinely interested in a Zoo Career. The following link has been put together to allow you to gain that extra edge. I wish you the very best of luck. Should you succeed please let me know. My advice for your CV and interview is based on 40 years experience in the Zoo Industry

Application, CV and Interview

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