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What does a zookeeper do?

Most people like animals, but it is hard work taking care of them. Animal caretakers feed, water, brush, bathe, and exercise animals. They also clean and fix their cages. They play with them and are their friends. They check to see if they are sick or hurt. Caretakers work wherever animals need shelter or help, including in zoos where they are called zookeepers.

Zookeepers prepare food, clean cages and check the behavior of animals. Sometimes they help study the animals they care for. They also answer questions from visitors about the animals. In large zoos, keepers may only take care of one kind of animal. In small zoos, keepers may care for many kinds.

People who love animals may enjoy working with them and helping them. Some of the work can be hard and not so nice. Keepers have to clean dirty animal cages. They must also lift heavy things like animals or bales of hay. Some animals make a lot of noise, and when an animal dies the zookeeper or animal caretaker may be very sad.

Sometimes an animal will bite, kick, or spread disease. Zookeepers and many animal caretakers may work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Animals must eat every day, so caretakers and keepers must work on weekends; most work about 40 hours a week.

How do you get ready to be a zookeeper?

Most people learn how to take care of animals on the job. Some animal caretakers can take a home-study course. Some animal trainers, however, need a college degree. Employers like workers who have had some training with animals before they give them a job.

Keepers in large zoos usually must have a college degree in biology, animal science, or a similar subject. They also should have worked with animals before. Other zoo training is the best, perhaps as a volunteer in a zoo or as a paid keeper in a smaller zoo.

How much does this job pay?

The middle half of all nonfarm animal caretakers earned between $6.95 and $10.26 an hour in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $6.13. The highest-paid 10 percent made more than $13.39 an hour. The middle half of all animal trainers earned between $8.21 and $15.96 an hour in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $6.87. The highest-paid 10 percent made more than $21.65 an hour.

Earnings for zookeepers may be similar to other animal caretakers.

How many jobs are there?

In 2002, there were about 151,000 animal care and service workers. Very few of them were zookeepers. Animal care and service workers are employed by animal hospitals, clinics, laboratories, kennels, and animal humane societies. Others worked for animal shelters, stables, grooming shops, pet stores, racetrack operators, theme parks, and circuses. Zookeepers work in zoos. Some animal care and service workers are self-employed.

What about the future?

Employment of animal care and service workers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2012. These are good first jobs for people just starting to work and for students and others who like to work with animals.

Jobs for zookeepers are not so easy to find because many people apply for a relatively small number of jobs. Most zookeepers like their work and stay where they are.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Agricultural workers (animal breeders, game-farm helpers, gamekeepers, livestock farm workers, poultry breeders)
  • Agricultural managers
  • Artificial-breeding technicians
  • Biological scientists (wildlife biologists and zoologists)
  • Farmers
  • Ranchers
  • Retail salespersons (in pet stores)
  • Veterinarians
  • Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers
  • Veterinary technologists and technicians
Where can you find more information?

More information about animal care and service workers can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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