Careers at the Zoo
Open since 1927, the Sacramento Zoo is home to more than 120 native, exotic and endangered species and is one of more than 200 accredited institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The zoo is wholly managed by the Sacramento Zoological Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and provides an educational and recreational resource to the Sacramento region. The Sacramento Zoological Society is an Equal Opportunity Employer.
Open positions are listed below. Click on the blue “more” flag for descriptions and instructions on how to apply.
*Disclaimer: Job descriptions have been designed to indicate the general nature and level of work performed by an employee within this classification. It is not designed to contain or be interpreted as a comprehensive inventory of all duties, responsibilities and qualifications required of an employee assigned to this job.
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 resume. 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.
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
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Responsible for the medical diagnosis, care and treatment of the animals
Oversees the management of the facility, sets protocols and policies, and assists with animal acquisitions
(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 for public programs
Presents programs to visitors, both on and off zoo grounds
Development and Fundraising
Cultivates community and business contacts to support the zoo
Facility & Grounds
Repairs equipment and maintains the facilities throughout the park
Concessions & Retail
Customer service positions in food and retail departments
Accountant responsible for managing the zoo budget
Works with plants and landscaping, both inside and outside of animal exhibits
Public Relations & Marketing
Promotes public awareness through advertising and coordinates special events
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 that we help to educate 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 every day?
Keepers spend most of their mornings preparing diets, feeding and cleaning the animals and exhibits 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 position posted on their website. The American Association of Zookeepers and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums each have monthly publications that list openings from around the country.
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 Society of Zoologists
Box 2739, Lutheran College
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
8403 Colesville Road Suite 710
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3314
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
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
Santa Fe Teaching Zoo
3000 NW 83rd Street
Gainesville, FL 32606
University of West Florida
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
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.
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.
There are many opportunities for young adults, college students and anyone interested in animals to volunteer at the Sacramento Zoo. The Sacramento Zoo volunteer programs are currently on hiatus due to Covid-19. Please check back later for more information.