What would it be like to work in a zoo? Imagine feeding tigers, training sea lions, or nursing a sick giraffe. Zoos offer a world of wonder for wildlife lovers, and they also present a unique opportunity to engage in conservation efforts that help protect the world's most endangered species.Granted, zoo work isn't all about thrill and glamour. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, "The work requires physical strength, as well as the ability to make detailed observations and keep information up-to-date. It takes a special kind of dedication to provide care to animals that require attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week, come snow, rain, or shine." If you're dedicated to working with wildlife and ready to pursue a career in a zoo, let's explore some of the options.
A job as a zoo keeper is one of the most enticing career paths for someone interested in zoo work because keepers provide direct care for diverse animal species, including feeding, cleaning, training, and health monitoring. They also educate visitors as part of their daily routine. Some keepers become highly specialized, focusing on a specific group of animals such as birds, elephants, ungulates, or reptiles.
Because zoo keeper positions are in high demand, the field is very competitive. Most entry-level keeper positions now require a four-year college degree with training in animal science, zoology, marine biology, conservation biology, wildlife management, and animal behavior. Experience working as a zoo intern or volunteer will also give you an advantage.
Conservation biology and zoology involve the study of the function, evolution, and behavior of animals. In zoos, biologists and zoologists study animal behavior, anatomy, physiology, ecology and more.
With a growing emphasis on captive breeding programs, many of these professionals perform population analyses, genetic management, and breeding recommendations. They also resolve issues related to animal population management within zoos.
Entry level biologist and zoologist positions may involve husbandry care and exhibit maintenance including animal feedings, cleaning, health monitoring, and environmental sampling.
Biology and zoology positions generally require a bachelor's degree in a related field, and most prefer a master's degree or higher. In some cases, professional work experience in a zoo or aquarium facility may be substituted for a college degree.
Zoo veterinarians examine, diagnose, and treat a wide array of exotic animal species. As part of the job, they perform surgery, administer medication, and formulate rehabilitation plans to reintroduce hospitalized animals to their zoo environments. They are also involved in genetics management, animal nutrition, and exhibit design.
To become a zoo veterinarian, you need to obtain a bachelor's degree and complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. Some veterinarians progress to post-doctoral training or residencies in zoological medicine that combine intensive academic training with clinical experience and applied research.
Look to the American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM) for specialty training and board certification in zoological medicine.
A zoo veterinary technician is a hands-on position that involves the care of animals but does not require the extensive education and training of a full-fledged veterinarian. A technician assists a veterinarian during medical procedures like diagnostic tests, lab exams, treatments, surgery, and dietary formulation. In addition, a technician is often responsible for cleaning facilities and equipment, feeding animals, maintaining medical charts, updating computer files, and interacting with visitors.
General requirements include a two-year Associate's degree from a veterinary technology program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association and AVMA certification.