Aspiring Zoo Keepers

Aspiring Zoo Keepers, Aquarists, and Marine Mammal Trainers

The animal care staff at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park is here to help with advice for pursuing a career in the animal care industry. First of all, no one goes down the same path to find a career in this field. Everyone finds their own path that works for them! Below is an outline of some steps that you can take to increase your chance of finding your niche in the animal care field

High school:

  • Find a way to volunteer with animals if possible. Even work with domestic animals at an animal shelter or a farm can help in the future!
  • Be well-rounded
  • Make sure your grades are on track for graduation
  • If you are interested in working with marine mammals or as an aquarist joining a swim team and/or becoming SCUBA certified will make you a better candidate for job opportunities
  • Find ways to improve your public speaking skills as many positions put you in direct contact with guests.

College:

  • Not everyone in the industry has a college degree the majority of job postings today do require one. Most keepers have degrees in biology or zoology. Marine mammal trainers often major in psychology or marine biology.
  • More experience! Either volunteering or interning is a great opportunity in college. Most positions will consider your experience first. Don’t be afraid to travel around the country for internships if you are financially able. Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park offers both volunteer and internship experience in a very hands-on experience. Understand that many internships and volunteer positions do not include direct contact with the animals. Make sure to be a reliable volunteer/intern so you receive excellent letters of recommendation.
  • Begin looking at job postings before graduation. Jobs are competitive and simply looking at the postings is a great way to see for which positions you would be most qualified and to plan on how to meet any additional requirements.
  • Look into joining professional organizations. Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the International Marine Animal Trainer Association (IMATA) are two great resources to learn more about the field and find job postings.

Recent Graduate:

  • If you don’t receive a job offer right after college, don’t sweat it! The field sometimes takes quite a while to break into. The more experience you gain the better your chances are to be hired.
  • Make sure you are going above and beyond for all of your internships/volunteer experiences. Most positions hire interns and volunteers before hiring outside the zoo so you want to make sure you stand out as an excellent employee.
  • Know that caring for animals means those animals rely on you every single day. That means a sick or pregnant animal may require overnight watches and all animals need to be fed on holidays. Be prepared to work odd hours in order to do what you love.
  • Understand that these positions do not involve simply “playing” with animals. There is a bunch of work that goes into properly caring for an exotic animal including tons of physical labor. Be prepared to get messy. The work can be tough but it is rewarding.

Zookeeper Specific:

  • Be physically fit. Zookeepers regularly lift 50 pounds. There is a ton of raking and shoveling that goes into caring for animals, especially large ones. Large mammal keepers are often working around hay as well.
  • Look into taking as many animal related courses as possible.
  • Have an understanding of operant conditioning techniques. Zookeeping positions often utilize training when working with various species.
  • Zoos often have volunteer positions. Many are not directly working with animals but even working as a docent and interacting with guests is a foot in the door.

Aquarist Specific:

  • Studying marine biology would be beneficial in this field or taking marine related courses.
  • Spend some time learning about fish and aquatic animals even if you are not taking a marine course. There are plenty of field guides you can use to practice fish identification.
  • SCUBA certification is usually required to maintain and clean tanks.
  • Volunteer if possible. Volunteers learn a great deal about what goes on behind the scenes including water quality and maintenance of proper conditions for a variety of species.

Marine Mammal Specific:

  • Whether you obtain a psychology or biology degree make sure you have an understanding of operant conditioning techniques. Check out our recommended reading list for a great selection of training related books.
  • Be physically fit. Most training positions require a swim test to prove that you are capable of working around the water and large marine mammals. These tests frequently include freestyle swimming, underwater swimming on a single breath, free diving to retrieve a weight, treading water, being able to pull yourself out of the water, push ups, and a bucket carry.
  • SCUBA certification is frequently required for pool maintenance and cleaning and looks great on a resume.
  • Be willing to speak to the public confidently, both in small groups and to large crowds.