If you're tired of being stuck behind a desk and want something completely different, you can't get more opposite than working with animals...yes that's actually a paid job.
There are an estimated 50 zoos and wildlife parks in the UK plus many more wildlife reserves, aquariums, animal centres and sanctuaries, all full of cute animals that need looking after. A dream job for animal fans, being a zoo keeper can be wild.
So, what will I actually be doing?
The priority of a zoo keeper is to maintain the welfare of the animals they care for and keep them happy. The Association of British and Irish Wild Animal Keepers (ABWAK) promotes ‘five freedoms’ which keepers should adhere to when looking after animals. They are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease
- Freedom to express normal behaviour
- Freedom from fear and distress
As well as some nice jobs to ensure the animals are well fed and have everything they need to be comfortable, zoo keepers are also expected to get their hands dirty and clean out animal enclosures daily.
You'll also be educating the vistors as keepers will often be the first point of contact, so be prepared to answer any questions people may have. You may even have to give presentations or demonstrations to school children or help with conservation and research projects.
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The nitty gritty
Animals don’t function 9-5 and neither will you. Zoo keepers often work in shifts including evenings and weekends. There may be part-time or seasonal work available during the busier summer months.
Want a career working with animals? From this role you can progress to senior or head zoo keeper or, through appropriate training, become a specialist keeper. Alternatively, you could step sideways and work as an education officer delivering sessions and promoting the principles of conservation to schools and colleges.
Money, money, money
Zoo keeper jobs have people starting at about £10-£13k per year, while senior keepers can bring in an annual income of around £25k.
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The good points...
“The job is very rewarding emotionally and when an animal shows it can trust you, you get such a feeling inside that there is no job in the world that can equal it,” say ABWAK.
...and the bad
“Zoo keeping can be a demanding job requiring dedication, commitment and patience. Keepers must be prepared to work weekends, holidays, summer or winter when the ground is frozen and the enclosures are full of snow.”
Is there study involved?
Zoos often ask for a minimum of five GCSEs. ABWAK also recommend that applicants hold the Advanced National Certificate in the management of zoo animals. Other qualifications you may want to consider include:
- NPTC (City & Guilds) Advanced National Certificate in animal care
- BTEC Level 5 Higher National Diploma and Certificate in animal management
Or for a higher level qualification:
- Foundation degree in zoo resource management
- MSc in zoo conservation biology
Want to stand out amongst the piles of job applications? Any time spent as a volunteer working in a zoo will be looked on very favourably by potential employers.
Need additional qualifications? Find a course at our Learning Zone
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
Squeamish, work-shy applicants need not apply! You need to be robust as a zoo keeper. The work can be dirty or cold and you’ll need to carry out your job regardless of the weather. A love for animals is, of course, essential but you also need to be realistic about their welfare and be prepared for some hard decisions.
Good communication skills are also vital as you’ll have lots of contact with the public. Keen observation skills help as you’ll need to monitor the behaviour of the animals in your care.