Do you love visiting the zoo, and marveling at all of the incredible animals living there? Do you go back to the zoo over and over, even when the weather’s bad or all of your friends and family are off doing other things? Do you ever find yourself thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to work in a place like this?”
If so, perhaps you should consider a zoological career. Zoos are small communities unto themselves, filled with people who come from a variety of backgrounds, but who all share a love of wild animals and their habitats. The field of zoology is actually several separate branches that formed during the Twentith Century.
These include evolutionary biology, palentology, comparative anatomy, ethology (which is the study of animal behavior), entomology (which is a zoologist who specializes in the study of insects), or ichthyology (the study of underwater creatures). Other professionals in this field specialize in one particular animal species, such as elephants or sea lions.
Many zoologists are employed in zoos and nature parks in North America, and around the world. Zoo workers share a duty to promote and protect wildlife in all its forms, including mammals, birds, reptiles, plants, fishes, invertebrates and amphibians.
Caring for the animals in a zoological park can be both challenging and rewarding. Most large zoos are organized into several major areas of focus, and most of the opportunities to work directly with animals are found within the Mammals, Aviculture, Aquarium, Animal Training, and Education departments.
Depending on the park, zoo employees can work either individually on one species of animal, or as part of a larger, integrated team. For example, a team might manage a tropical exhibit that houses tigers and other large cats, tropical birds, smaller mammals, snakes and fishes.
Zookeepers, animal health care staff (veterinarians), animal trainers, horticulturists, curators and educators all work together to keep today’s zoos operating smoothly and efficiently. As a group they are all caring, committed individuals who share a passion for wildlife and the environments in which they live.
Qualifications for zoologists, zookeepers and zoo workers
As for the qualifications for zoo employment, they are a varied as the jobs themselves.
Most require at least a bachelor’s degree, and some – like veterinarians or wildlife biologists – require an advanced degree as well.
The jobs that require less schooling, but still involve direct contact with plants and animals, include zookeepers, landscapers, wildlife and veterinary technicians, and educators.
If you’re planning on a career as a zoologist, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in zoology. This is often enough to gain an entry-level position as a zoologist or wildlife biologist. These jobs typically begin at the bottom of the pay scale as the employee gains more on-the-job experience, typically doing research.
Then, as the job holder gains more experience, or earns a graduate degree, they can apply for higher-level positions in wildlife biology, ethology, entomolgy or one of the other specialized branches of this career field.
If you’re currently still in school, a strong focus on zoology is recommended, as well as other natural science courses such as zoology, marine biology, microbiology, botany or anthropology. Ask your school counselor to help you work out a course list that will prepare you to earn a degree in zoology, botany, or biology.
And study hard – just like any employer, zoological parks are seeking graduated who are hard-working, knowledgeable, and “team players” who can be a valuable asset to the park.
If you’d like to learn more and get some valuable experience at the same time, consider volunteering at your local zoo. Call your nearest zoo or aquatic park and ask for details on becoming a volunteer (also called a docent or intern).
Volunteer duties at zoos can range from cleaning cages and habitats, preparing food, constructing educational presentations, and even answering the phone and other clerical duties.
There’s no pay involved, of course, but become a volunteer shows that you’re committed to helping wildlife and learning more about this challenging and rewarding career field. Visit the best colleges for zoology page for more information on getting a degree in this challenging and rewarding career field.