Zoo Keeper

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Animal Technician

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Practical or MechanicalNature or RecreationAnalytic or ScientificSkill Level 2Skill Level 3
Skill Level 4
Skill Level 5

As a zookeeper, your responsibility will be the welfare of animals kept in safari parks, zoos, petting farms, wildlife parks or other animal attractions open to the public. Zookeepers also look after animals in private collections, though this is less common.  Future Growth Strong

Usually, you'll specialise in working with one type of animal, or in a particular
section of the zoo, such as with great apes, penguins, African animals, reptiles or in an aviary. By focusing on one area, you'll grow to understand the animals in your care well, allowing you to provide them with the best opportunity to thrive within captivity.

Although animal welfare is a critical feature of the role, equally vital is your
ability to engage with the public and educate them about the inhabitants of the zoo.

In Australia, a game reserve model is often favoured, with large areas kept as natural habitats for entire ecosystems. Job roles on game reserves have much in common with keeper roles but usually include acting as a tour guide for visitors to the reserve.

Petting zoos are designed for children to feed and pet gentle domesticated animals such as goats, donkeys, sheep and rabbits. Petting zoos sometimes travel with fairs or other attractions from city to city.

There are also a number of private collections owned by wealthy individuals and celebrities who recruit keepers.

Knowledge, skills and attributes

You will need:

  • confidence in approaching and handling animals of all sizes

  • scientific observation skills to monitor the wellbeing of animals in your care

  • a high level of fitness, good health and the ability to sustain physical work for long periods in all weathers

  • great communication skills and the confidence to talk to visitors of all ages, often in large groups

  • a driving licence, if you're working in a large zoo or safari park.

Giraffes
Giraffes at Taronga Zoo, Sydney

A critical aspect of working as a zoo keeper is the education of visitors. Visitors value your knowledge and learn about global environmental issues and the importance of wildlife conservation from your talks. Gaining experience interacting with the public in other settings will give you important skills for the role. Many animal charities offer opportunities to promote animal welfare directly to the public, or online, through social media campaigns.

Although primarily designed to entertain and educate the public, most zoos regardless of ownership have a strong emphasis on scientific research and species conservation. Due to this focus, there is a culture of collaboration amongst organisations both in the Australia and internationally, with animals being transferred between zoos in order to mate, or to improve welfare.



Duties and Tasks Zookeeper with Elephant

Your responsibilities as a zookeeper will include:

  • keeping animal enclosures clean, germ-free and safely secured
  • preparing food such as pellets, fresh produce, meat or hay and administer medications
  • observing animals and check for any signs of distress or ill health
  • designing, building and repairing environments which are as close to natural habitats as possible
  • coming up with creative ideas for enrichment to keep animals active and interested in their environments
  • working with other professionals such as vets
  • educating visitors by sharing your animal knowledge through demonstrations with live animals, talks, tours, and visitor experiences
  • keeping daily detailed records of behaviour, eating habits, births, deaths and other events
  • assisting with breeding procedures and raising young animals, particularly with endangered species
  • training animal behaviour to make feeding, medicating and monitoring easy and safe.

Working hours

As a zookeeper, you'll need to be prepared to work year round, and over weekends too. Animals require care and attention every day, including Christmas and other holidays. You're likely to be part of a 'call out' rota, meaning you'll need to be available outside of working hours in case of emergencies. Keepers often work unpaid overtime and need to be flexible about their days off, particularly if animals are unwell or births are expected.

Part time, seasonal and short contracts are common.

What to expect

  • You'll get the opportunity to build close and trusting relationships with animals and play a critical role in their conservation. Some keepers develop international reputations for their specialist knowledge.
  • It will be necessary to work long hours, over weekends and with early starts. Your daily tasks can be repetitive and physically demanding, with a large part of your role dedicated to hosing, scrubbing, sweeping and disinfecting enclosures.
  • In most animal collections, physical contact between keepers and animals is minimised. Over-handling or treating zoo animals like pets can change their behaviours, and impact on breeding success. Despite this, you may form strong bonds with the animals you care for, which can make it emotionally difficult when the animals are moved to other collections, or reach the end of their lives.
  • Zoos are spread out around the country, so you may need to relocate in order to progress, or to specialise in work with particular animals.

Education and training/entrance requirements

Most organisations housing animal collections have a focus on conservation, research and education. Although not exclusively a graduate profession, keepers are increasingly qualified to degree level, and often to postgraduate level.

You don't need a degree to be a zookeeper, as practical animal experience is paramount. However, most zoo keepers do have a degree, and increasingly new entrants to the profession are educated to postgraduate level in animal related disciplines.

Aspiring zookeepers can apply for apprenticeships or work their way into the profession by gaining transferable skills in other animal-focused roles. Having a degree in zoology, or a life science such as biology or psychology, can be advantageous. Another option would be to study for a degree in a related subject, such as animal science or animal behaviour and welfare.

It's extremely unlikely that you'll find paid work in a zoo without significant experience with animals. However, many zoos have a number of voluntary opportunities or internships on offer, which are usually detailed on their websites. Many other animal organisations rely on the support of volunteers and these can offer opportunities for gaining the practical skills required, such as working with domestic animals or native wildlife in vet practices, petting farms, sanctuaries, stables, kennels or catteries. (Source: Prospects UK)

 

Animal Technician
Environments

Nature or RecreationAnalytic or ScientificSkill Level 2

Animal technicians help veterinary, medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural and general scientists and students to care for and check on animals used for research, breeding and scientific purposes. Future Growth Strong

Knowledge, skills and attributes

  • enjoy practical and manual activities
  • interested in animals, their welfare and conservation
  • able to handle animals with confidence and patience
  • able to make accurate observations
  • free from allergies aggravated by animal hair, feathers, fur and dust
  • able to undertake manual and sometimes heavy work.


Duties and Tasks

Animal technicians may perform the following tasks:

  • perform daily checks and record the health status and behaviour of animals in their care
  • prepare food and water and provide care for laboratory, field or zoo animals
  • look after zoo exhibits, holding or breeding areas and equipment
  • assist in return-to-the-wild programs
  • carry out experiments using animals, recording the results under supervision and according to relevant codes of practice, and the organisation's animal experimentation ethics committee rules
  • take samples of animal body fluids, faeces or tissue for analysis or veterinary inspection
  • inspect and test animals for worm infestation and disease
  • observe animals' reactions to tests
  • make routine calculations and prepare graphs
  • clean and disinfect cages and facilities, and sterilise equipment
  • establish and maintain breeding programs
  • help in fertility testing for sheep, cattle or poultry research
  • assist in the selection and grading of animals for breeding programs
  • help with injections, surgery, dressings and care of animals after operations
  • assist with the production of animal experimentation protocols
  • humanely put animals down and/or handle animals that have died
  • participate in embryo transfer procedures
  • carry out post-mortem examinations on dead animals.

Handler with Monkey

Working Conditions

Animal technicians are usually required to work in shifts and on weekends. Some work outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions. Much of their time is spent doing routine tasks such as cleaning exhibits and feeding animals.

Education and training/entrance requirements

Animal Technicians need to have training in a related field, which will require you to have completed year 10 at a minimum or find an alternative entry pathway into a course.

You can complete the Diploma of Animal Technology to prepare for senior or managerial roles within animal technology environments such as Biomedical Research Centres.

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