A career talking to the animals as a zookeeper

Zookeepers look after animals in zoos, safari parks, aquariums and specialised collections.

Tasks as a zookeeper would include:

n preparing food and feeding animals;

n providing fresh bedding and water;

n cleaning out pens and cages;

n checking for signs of distress, disease or injury in animals;

n helping to care for sick animals under the direction of a vet;

n checking enclosures, cages and barriers for signs of wear or damage;

n answering visitors’ questions and sometimes giving talks or lectures;

n ordering feed and bedding;

n monitoring accommodation conditions, such as temperature and humidity;

n keeping daily healthcare records in a diary or, normally, on a computer.

You would usually work with a particular type of animal or in a specific section of the zoo.

As animals need to be looked after seven days a week, you will usually work on a shift system including weekends and bank holidays. Senior zookeepers may be on a call-out rota.

You could spend a lot of time outside in all weathers, depending on the type of animal. Some parts of your work, such as cleaning out cages and enclosures, are likely to be dirty and smelly.

Salaries can start at around £16,000 a year.

Salaries for senior zookeepers can range from around £17,000 to over £20,000.

Free or subsidised accommodation may be provided in some jobs.

You may not need any particular qualifications to start work in a zoo, although some employers may expect you to have GCSEs (A-C) or similar qualifications, perhaps including English and a science subject.

Most employers will expect you to have experience of working with animals.

Zoos usually have volunteer programmes, and you might be able to gain experience by getting involved in one of these.

However, the programmes are very popular, so you might have to join a waiting list.

Check with individual zoos and wildlife parks to find out about volunteering opportunities – see the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums website for contact details.

You may find it useful to complete a course in animal care or animal management before looking for work. BTEC Level 2 First Certificate/Diploma in Animal Care

BTEC and NPTC Level 2 Award/Certificate/Diploma in Animal Care

NPTC and ABC Award/Certificate/Diploma in Work-based Animal Care at levels 1 and 2.

Once you start work as a zookeeper, you will receive practical on-the-job training.

In larger zoos, you may be able to progress to head keeper.