What Are the Different Types of Zookeeper Qualifications?

K. Kinsella

Zookeepers are responsible for maintaining zoos and other types of animal sanctuaries as well as caring for the various types of animals that are housed in these locations. Typically, zookeeper qualifications for jobs at major zoos include a college degree while smaller zoos often only require job applicants to have graduated from high school. Aside from educational requirements, zookeeper qualifications also include practical experience dealing with certain kinds of animals.

Prior experience at a zoo is one of the required qualifications of a zookeeper.
Prior experience at a zoo is one of the required qualifications of a zookeeper.

Many universities offer degree courses in zoology and animal science and people with degrees in these fields often apply for jobs as zookeepers. Individuals with other types of science degrees often take on roles in animal sanctuaries that deal with particular types of animals. An aquarium may prefer to hire a graduate with a degree in marine science while a zoo may seek to hire an individual with an equine science degree to preside over operations at the horse stables. Some zoos accept applications from individuals who have general science degrees and a basic knowledge of animals.

Zookeepers may only be qualified to work with certain types of animals, such as big cats.
Zookeepers may only be qualified to work with certain types of animals, such as big cats.

Large zoos employ keepers to take care of specific types of animals and people filling these roles typically need to have spent time working as animal assistants alongside experienced zookeepers. Assistants are often unpaid volunteers who are tasked with feeding animals and cleaning pens and stables. Some zoos offer internships to college students. In many instances, zookeeper qualifications often include successful completion of an internship. Some employers also require prospective keepers to provide references from sanctuaries and other animal centers where they previously worked.

Zoos usually employ veterinarians to treat sick and injured animals but many employers require zookeepers to have undergone some veterinary training. Some colleges and animal centers operate short-term courses in which students are taught about administering basic first aid to various types of animals. Zoos that lack in-house veterinarians often include successful completion of an animal care class in the zookeeper qualifications that are listed in job advertisements.

In addition to academic credentials and prior experience at zoos and animal sanctuaries, a zookeeper must also be physically fit. Keepers have to haul around heavy containers of animal feed and in some instances zookeepers have to rely on their own strength to push or pull large animals into pens or feeding areas. Many animals pose a threat to humans so a zookeeper must also have good eye sight and be agile in order to avoid being attacked or injured by a captive animal. Additionally, a zookeeper must have good administrative skills so as to ensure that each animal receives the correct amount of food and medication. Therefore, some employers prefer to hire keepers who have prior management experience.

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