How to Become a Zookeeper
Many students ask us whether the Zoology Major is the best preparation at UF for
becoming a zookeeper. To help answer this, Susan Danhauser, Director of Human Resources
for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, has
very kindly provided the information below.
Our Zoo can have up to 100 or more applications for every zookeeper opening here
at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. As a result, it is important to know
how to separate yourself from the other applicants. Although there are many
things considered, it usually comes down to two basics – experience and education.
Experience: This is often the deciding factor. But
how do you get experience if you have none? The answer is quite easy –
volunteer. Volunteer at the Zoo near you. That is by far the best thing
you can do. If there isn’t a zoo nearby, then volunteer at a veterinary
clinic, animal shelter, humane society, etc. Your basic goal is twofold.
You want to acquire experience working directly with a variety of animals, and you
are establishing yourself a record with someone who can then vouch that you are
a hard worker, that shows up on time, follows directions well, works well with others,
etc. Historically, a lot of zookeepers came from the farm. They literally
grew-up taking care of animals. Now that we are less of an Agrarian Society
there are more positions open to people with a variety of animal experiences.
Unfortunately, in most cases, just keeping pets does not provide the needed appropriate
Many people enter the zoo world through the entry-level position of animal keeper,
and it is a pivotal job in the Zoo. Zookeepers are the first line of defense
against potential health and injury problems. In captivity many of our charges
do not show signs of disease or illness until it is too late to treat effectively.
A good keeper gets to know their animals so well that they recognize the subtle
signs of illness a specimen may be hiding. This allows our veterinary staff
to treat the specimen in a timely fashion.
Education: Although the only specific education requirement
at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a High School education, it is often the
college degree that gets you that closer look. Although a degree in Zoology
or Animal Science would be nice, a bachelor in one of the other life sciences will
do just fine. Although not a requirement, there is a small handful of keeper
training programs related to institutions of higher learning. One such program
is in Florida at the Santa Fe
Community College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, FL.
Being a zookeeper means commitment to your animals, to the Zoo, and to public education.
It involves long hours and hard work and over 95% of the time it isn’t really
that glamorous. But if you love animals, want to work with species that few
people ever get to see close-up, and want to be there for those occasional moments
where you have direct impact on an endangered species or succeed in a special breeding
or birth, then you will find the job very rewarding. During 2006, one of our
zookeepers celebrated his 25th anniversary as a keeper at the Jacksonville Zoo.
A good place to learn more about zookeepers is the web site for the American Association
of Zookeepers at www.aazk.org.
If you are interested in becoming part of our Zoo family and want to work with species
that few people ever get to be near then contact the Director of Human Resources,
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, 370 Zoo Parkway, Jacksonville, FL, 32218; Email (in
Word format) firstname.lastname@example.org;
or Fax: 904-757-1626.
Our volunteer program offers students the opportunity to work along side of keepers
in their daily routines. We do require a recent TB test result to work with
the animals. There are classes that we give here that are required before
they can work in animal areas. Please contact the Volunteer Coordinator, Ali
Van Broekhoven or visit our website at www.jacksonvillezoo.org for more
information on the program.
Finally, the book
Opportunities In Zoo Careers by Blythe Camenson may be helpful. It tells
about a variety of different careers like keeper, curator, behaviorists, vet staff
and wildlife rehabalitation.