How to Be a Zookeeper

By Eric Hammer

If you came back from the zoo and decided that you want to be a zookeeper, you wouldn't be the first person to ever entertain that idea. Many people love animals and find the idea of working in the local zoo and getting paid for it to be simply wonderful. However, even though there is a lot to be said for being a zookeeper, it's not all fun and games and the competition is extremely fierce.

If you want to be a zookeeper, you'll have to love animals through the good and the bad. For example, dealing with the animals doesn't just mean you get to stroke the side of the elephant's body or feed him peanuts. You also have to clean out his cage and clear away his feces when he takes care of his business. It's a very dirty job, though those parts of it aren't always seen by people who want to be a zookeeper.

In addition, there is fierce competition to be a zookeeper. One zookeeper whose web site we looked at for this article mentions how the zoo she works at gets at least 100 applications for every open position at the zoo.

Now that's not to say that it's all bad to be a zookeeper. Quite the contrary. You get to work with some of nature's most majestic creatures and you get to truly enjoy them in their natural habitats (or as close as you can make it anyway in a zoo). It's just that it's not only the show that you watch at the zoo when you go for a visit.

How Much Can You Make?

For all that the competition for jobs as a zookeeper is quite heavy, the salary tends to be relatively low. According to the bureau of labor statistics, the average salary in 2008 was just $21,550 per year. offers a slightly more encouraging picture, suggesting that the average salary is actually closer to $33,000 per year as of 2011.

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If you want to be a zookeeper but you can't seem to find a job right away, don't despair. There are lots of jobs that involve animal care and most of them tend to be much easier to get than the job of zookeeper. You could be a wildlife surveyor, a veterinarian (including one who works in zoos), a marine biologist or any number of other professions surrounding the care and feeding of wildlife.

However, for those who are committed and have decided that they simply must be a zookeeper, some advice: the number one thing that zoos look for is not so much your education as your experience. Of course, this is the age old problem that people have in any job - you can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job. The solution for many would be zookeepers is to become a volunteer. In fact, many professional zookeepers have started out life working as a volunteer before they finally managed to land a full time position in a zoo.

Qualifications / Requirements

While officially some zoos will require nothing more than a high school education, for all practical purposes, having at least a bachelor's degree in zoology or animal science is usually the minimum to get a job as a zookeeper.

First Steps

Start by volunteering at the local zoo. Not only will you be able to gain valuable work experience, but you will also see if your really do want to be a zookeeper since you'll get to experience the day to day work behind the scenes.


Check out these helpful resource to learn more about how to be a zookeeper:

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Zookeeper - Enter "zookeeper" in the search box for some good information on requirements and pay.

University of Florida: How to Become a Zookeeper - Written by a professional zookeeper, this is an excellent guide to what it really takes to land a job as a zookeeper.

Sara's Zookeeper Page - A blog from a zookeeper about life for someone who always knew she wanted to be a zookeeper.

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