So you want to be a zoo keeper?
My second blog post for National Careers Week.
This week has been rather busy, not just with all my usual school visits and animal parties but we also won a community award at the Borough of Broxbourne Awards (yay!) and so I am posting this blog a day late! Incidentally it was my zoo ‘Cedars Nature Centre’ which won the award and so what better time than now to tell you all about the wonderful job of zoo keeping! Being a zoo keeper is hard work, it’s long hours and it’s low pay BUT it’s also an amazing life changing career! Zoo keeping isn’t just about feeding food into one end and cleaning up what comes out the other end. Zoo keepers create a real bond with their animals with some bonds lasting decades! This means keepers can sometimes tell just from the behaviour of an animal if it’s sick or if it’s about to give birth well beforehand!
Zoo keepers help to conserve species, they educate the public and they provide pages and pages of data that can help conservationists studying those animals in the wild!
So... how to get into this career... First off, it is a hard industry to get into. For every one available job there can be 50 or more applicants! To help you stand out here are a few things to help you on your way. You do not necessarily need a degree to become a zoo keeper but a degree or animal care qualification will certainly help. As an employer I’m looking for someone who is willing to work hard in all weathers, has good observation skills for animal behaviour (and locks!), can communicate to the public and the team with ease and someone who genuinely has an interest in animals. Not all of this you will get from a degree or college course!
This brings me onto my next point... volunteering! 90% of the zoo keepers that I know started as volunteers. I volunteered at a zoo and not only did I learn a lot but I gained some great likeminded friends in the process! By far volunteering is one of the best ways to get into the industry. It proves you are passionate about working with animals, you can gain the skill set required to become a keeper and best of all you will already be on the zoos radar when it comes to the next available job. Sometimes you may be taken on as a seasonal keeper, then a part time keeper and finally the ultimate goal of full time keeper. You may also be required to have a driving license if you are working in a larger zoo where vans and tractors are used. Be prepared to work outside in all weathers, rain, snow, sun and to be working long hours, weekdays and weekends. There are days when you will be sweating with the heat and there are days when you will be shaking with the cold! Generally you must be physically fit as you will likely be lifting heavy loads. However there are also non physical jobs in zoos such as education officers and administrative roles. A large part of my job at the Cedars Nature Centre is to essentially sit at the computer for most of the day dealing with volunteer and work experience applications, animal
movements, animal records, research requests and booking in experiences.
One last piece of advice. When you are applying for job applications or even work experience, make sure you type a professional email and add your CV. The worst job application emails I receive start with “Hiya, I just wondered if you had a job going?” This is not the type of email you should be sending out. So my advice is be professional, volunteer and keep working at it!