Zoo Career Resources
Have You Ever Thought of Working With Rare and Endangered Animals?
Zoos, aquariums and marine parks offer a wonderful opportunity to work with rare and endangered animals. But there are many other organizations that offer the same careers, with a slightly different focus. Rehabilitation groups, wildlife sanctuaries, nature centers, and private animal education facilities are sprouting up around the country, and each offers different experiences for their employees.
For starters, do some research to find out which organizations are in your area. The Internet is a valuable tool in finding many of the private institutions. Call or make an appointment to stop by and ask what careers are available and what kind of experience they require. Most, if not all, animal facilities have some brochure or seminar aimed at people entering the career field. This can provide you with ideas or answers to your questions.
Next, begin to volunteer at the facility of your choice. You want to make sure you’ll enjoy the job as much as you think you will before you head down the career path. Volunteering is often the best way to get your foot in the door. It is a good way to put some animal experience on your résumé. Some animal facilities even partner with local schools to allow students to earn credits or community service hours.
Last, but not least, increase your knowledge by taking classes. Although most animal knowledge comes from experience, a solid education always helps. Contact your local university or community college for information on course work geared toward your desired career.
Finally, be dedicated. Research your prospective career, and find as many activities as possible that will assist you in the end goal of finding employment. Working your way into the animal field requires time and patience, but the reward is immeasurable.
Zoo Careers and Jobs
Below is a brief sampling of possible jobs and career opportunities many zoos, biological parks and marine parks offer. Even if you’re not interested in a hands-on animal career, all wildlife facilities have a wide variety of other professions available. The bonus is that you will still be working close to animals.
Daily animal care, including feeding, exhibit cleaning and behavioral observation
Oversees the management of the facility, sets protocols and policies, and assists with animal acquisitions
|Doctor of Veterinary Medicine|
Responsible for the medical diagnosis, care and treatment of the animals
(Animal Health Technician)
Assists the veterinarian with general animal care
Provides customer service, data processing and information for Members and visitors
Designs artwork for logos, newsletters, flyers, signs, and advertising
Trains animals to demonstrate natural behaviors on demand for public programs
Presents programs to visitors, both on and off zoo grounds
|Public Relations and Marketing|
Promotes public awareness through advertising and coordinates special events
|Development and Fund Raising|
Cultivates community and business contacts to support the zoo
Works with plants and landscaping, both inside and outside of animal exhibits
|Maintenance/ Grounds Keeper|
Repairs equipment and maintains the facilities throughout the park
Accountant responsible for managing the zoo budget
|Concessions and Retail|
Customer service positions in food and retail departments
To begin a career working with or caring for animals you should start by volunteering. You can call your local zoo, humane society, veterinary clinic, or wildlife center to find out what help they might need. The Internet is a great resource for locating some private sanctuaries.
Volunteering establishes you as a dedicated worker and gives you important job experience for future positions. Many facilities hire from their ranks of volunteers due to their experience and familiarity with the job. This will give you an inside track in a competitive market.
As a volunteer you have the ability to experiment with the jobs you might want to choose as a career. You can determine what job or jobs best suit your interests before you make the long term commitment of becoming an employee.
Volunteering at the Sacramento Zoo starts with a phone call. There are many opportunities for young adults, college students and anyone interested in animals. Some of these opportunities include: keeper-aides (18 years of age or older), camp counselors (15-19 years of age), and Interpretive Center internships (college students).
For more information on volunteering at the Sacramento Zoo visit our volunteer page, call (916) 808-7444 or email the Volunteer Coordinator.
Many zoos and wildlife parks have information packets on job opportunities available at their facilities. There are also associations affiliated with these facilities that can give you information on careers and locations of parks local to your area or state. Below is a brief listing of associations and facilities to contact.
|American Association of Zoo Keepers|
3601 S.W. 29th Street, Suite 133
Topeka, KS 66614-2054
American Zoo and Aquarium Association
8403 Colesville Road Suite 710
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3314
American Society of Zoologists
Box 2739, Lutheran College
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
|Bureau of Labor Statistics|
U.S. Department of Labor
Washington, DC 20212
|National Audubon Society|
645 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20003
National Wildlife Federation
1400 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
National Marine Educators Association
P.O. box 51215
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
|North American Association for Environmental Education|
P.O. Box 400
Troy, Ohio 45373
This list gives you a start on what types of careers are available. Also check your local public library and college libraries for books relating to the animal field.
- Duncan, Jane C., Careers in Veterinary Medicine. New York: Rosen Publishing Group Inc.,1988.
- Heitzman, Ray., Opportunities in Marine and Maritime Careers, 2nd Edition. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Company, 1990.
- Hodge, Guy R., Careers Working with Animals, The Humane Society’s Guide. Washington, DC: Acropolis Books Ltd., 1981.
- Koebner, Linda, Zoo Book, The Evolution of Wildlife Conservation Centers. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1994.
- Lee, Mary Price., Opportunities in Animal and Pet Care Careers. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Co., 1984.
- Lobb, Charlotte., Exploring Animal Care Careers. New York: Richards Rosen Press, 1981.
- Miller, Louise., Careers for Animal Lovers and other Zoological Types. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Co., 1991.
- Ricciuti, Edward R., They Will Work With Wildlife; Jobs for People Who Want to Work with Animals. New York: Harper Collins children’s Books, 1983.
- Shorto, R., Careers for Animal Lovers. Brookfield, Connecticut: The Millbook Press, 1992.
Education and Colleges
A strong background in zoology or related science background is necessary for most of the jobs that involve working closely with animals. Other jobs like marketing, education or exhibit design might require different backgrounds, so a diverse education is always important.
Contacting your local college or school counselor will help guide you toward an appropriate educational pathway for your desired job. Below is a brief listing of colleges in California that offer Biological/Science degrees and related course work.
California State University & University of CA
Most colleges offer a range of majors in the zoological or biological sciences.
|Los Angeles Pierce College|
Animal Health Technology Program
6201 Winnetka Ave
Woodland Hills, CA 91371
Exotic Animal Training and Management
7075 Campus Road
Moorpark, CA 93021
|San Diego Mesa College|
Animal Health Technology Program
7250 Mesa College Drive
San Diego, CA 92111
|Oregon Coast Community College|
Associate of Applied Science degree
program in Aquarium Science
|Jefferson Community College|
Animal Management Program
1220 Coffeen Street
Watertown, NY 13601
|University Of California, Davis|
College of Veterinary Medicine
1 Shields Ave.
Davis, CA 95616
|University of West Florida|
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
|Santa Fe Teaching Zoo|
3000 NW 83rd Street
Gainesville, FL 32606
There are many two year colleges in California and other states that offer Associate of Arts degrees and certificates in zoological/veterinarian/biological sciences or related fields. The Regional Occupational Program, which works with many high schools and offers animal assistant classes, is another resource.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to have a college degree?
Although some zookeepers have a two-year degree, most jobs now require a four-year degree in biology, zoology or a related field. This is an extremely competitive field, and education is as important as experience.
Is working with the animals as fun as it looks?
Yes and no. Working with animals is not easy. It takes dedication and responsibility. Most zookeepers work weekends and holidays, as the animals still need care on those days, too. The work is outdoors, so weather can sometimes be an issue. But, the job is never boring, as each day brings new surprises and fulfillment.
What do you like most and least about your job?
Least - Working outside in hot/wet weather and dealing with sick or injured animals.
Most - Knowing the animals at the zoo are well cared for and enjoyed by the public.
What do you get paid per year?
Salaries differ in each region of the country depending upon the size of the institution and the cost of living in the surrounding area. The average yearly salary for entry level animal care staff ranges from $20,000 to $30,000 per year. More experienced staff and managers will have a higher salary. Benefits (medical, dental, sick leave and vacation), are included in most salaries.
What do you do everyday?
Keepers spend most of their mornings preparing diets, feeding and cleaning the animals assigned to them. The afternoons can be spent working on special projects, behavioral observation and afternoon feedings. Trainers and educators spend a large portion of the day preparing for shows, and presenting programs.
Will I get to have direct contact with the animals?
Usually not. The animals on exhibit are not tame. However, for some animals, contact is necessary for maintenance purposes. Trainers and educators work with smaller animals that are often trained and handled for shows and performances. No matter if it is a hedgehog or a tiger, zoo animals are not pets and are not handled as such.
Where can I find job openings?
Most zoos have a job line or website that will list vacancies and openings. The American Association of Zookeepers and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums each have monthly publications that list openings from around the country. Find out what jobs the Sacramento Zoo has open by visiting our Current Job Openings page.