Zookeepers look after animals in zoos, wildlife parks and safari parks. They care for a diverse range of animals from large and dangerous to rare and exotic.
You could be:
cleaning enclosures and changing bedding
preparing food and feeding the animals
making sure animal enclosures are as close to natural conditions as possible
checking animals for illness or injury and helping to treat them when they are not well
carrying out basic maintenance on animal enclosures to ensure the safety of animals and visitors
patrolling the park, making sure visitors are safe and the animals are not disturbed
helping to breed animals
responsible for a particular section of the zoo or park or for certain types of animals, such as primates or reptiles
answering questions from visitors and giving talks to schoolchildren and others.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
Salaries for trainee zookeepers at entry level are around £13,000 to £16,000 a year. Qualified keepers can earn around £16,000 to £20,000 a year, while senior keepers earn up to around £22,000 a year. Head keepers can earn up to £32,000 a year.
You would work both indoors, sometimes in tropically heated enclosures, and outdoors, in all weather.
The work is physically hard – there is a lot of bending, stretching, lifting and carrying.
It can be dirty, smelly and noisy.
Some animals can be dangerous and there can be the risk of attack, although you would rarely come into direct contact with large exotic breeds, such as lions and rhinos.
You may have to work shifts, with early starts and late finishes, especially in summer when zoos and wildlife parks are open for longer.
Weekend work is normally necessary.
You may need to wear protective clothing, and a uniform may also be provided.
Previous experience of work with animals – voluntary work or a holiday job in a zoo, kennel, farm or stable – is important if not essential.
A good standard of general education is useful. Some employers may prefer you to have some subjects at National 4 or 5, especially English, Maths and science subjects.
You can take a full time college course before starting work. There are courses in animal care available at NC (SCQF Levels 4-6), HNC (SCQF Level 7) and HND (SCQF Level 8) levels.
Entry requirements for an NC vary from no formal requirements up to 4 subjects at National 4 or 5. The HNC and HND require 1-2 Highers or an NC in animal care.
You may need a full, clean driving licence, particularly for a wildlife or safari park.
You need to be fit enough to do an active job.
What Does it Take?
You need to be:
passionate about animal welfare and conservation
confident about dealing with both large and small animals
reliable and responsible
able to communicate with visitors, both children and adults, and to answer questions
able to deal with unpleasant conditions and not be squeamish.
You would normally train on the job alongside an experienced keeper.
This may be combined with part time attendance at college for a relevant SVQ, NC or HNC.
You could do a Foundation Degree in Zoo Management at Reaseheath College in Nantwich, Cheshire.
You could do the 2 year distance learning Diploma in Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals (DMZAA), offered by Sparsholt College (Hampshire) and the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA). You need to be working in a zoo or aquarium due to the practical elements of the course.
In larger zoos and parks, there can be promotion opportunities to posts such as senior keeper or head keeper.
You could become specialised in looking after one kind of animal.
It can help if you are able to move around the country for job opportunities.