Zookeeper

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About

A career as a Zookeeper

Zookeepers are responsible for the day-to-day care and welfare of animals in a zoo, wildlife/safari park, aquarium or special collection.

Zookeepers may work with a wide range of animals, or specialise in working with one type, such as reptiles, amphibians, primates or birds. They make sure that animals are physically and psychologically healthy, spotting any signs of diseases, stress of injury. As well as looking after the animals, Zookeepers will often be involved in educating members of the public, answering questions about the animals and their natural behaviour and habitat in the wild.

Also known as: Zoo Keeper

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Skills/Knowledge

You’ll need:

  • an interest in animal welfare and conservation

  • confident about dealing with both large and small animals

  • physical skills such as mobility and co-ordination, and a reasonable level of fitness

  • to work well with others

  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail

  • excellent verbal communication skills

  • the ability to use your initiative

  • good customer service skills

  • to be flexible and open to change

  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations

  • thinking and reasoning skills

  • to use a computer and the main software packages competently

There is a lot of competition for vacancies. Previous experience of work with animals – voluntary work or a seasonal role in a zoo, kennel, farm or stable – is important if not essential.

Salary
Typical salaries
range from
Typical Hours

37-40 hours per week, with work at weekends and public holidays. Zoos and wildlife parks are generally open every day of the year, except Christmas Day. Part-time and seasonal work may be available with some employers.

Animals must be cared for every day of the year, so Keepers work on a rota to cover all periods. During spring and summer, they may work shifts to cover the hours from 7am to 7pm or later. Senior Keepers may be on a call-out rota, which could include evenings.

Day to Day
  • Prepare food and feed animals

  • Clean out enclosures and change bedding

  • Check for signs of distress or disease and work with a vet to treat and care for sick animals

  • Check enclosures for signs of wear or damage, carrying out basic maintenance

  • Making sure animal enclosures are as close to natural conditions as possible, monitoring conditions like temperature and humidity

  • Keep daily animal welfare records

  • Supervise trainee keepers, animal care workers and volunteers

  • Run education workshops and give talks to visitors

Working Environment

You would work both indoors, sometimes in tropical heated enclosures, and outdoors, in all weather.

The work is physically hard – there is a lot of bending, stretching, lifting and carrying. Enclosures 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.

Training Available

Training is an essential part of any job, giving you the skills and knowledge you need to do your job safely and correctly. It also helps to strengthen your current skill set and prepares you for the next stage in your career.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships help you build the experience and skills that employers want to see. No matter what stage you’re at, they’ll help set you up for a bright future. There are lots of ways to get involved.

Zookeeper opportunities and careers paths

In larger zoos and parks, there can be promotion opportunities to posts such as senior or head keeper. It can help if you are able to move to another zoo for job opportunities.

You could become specialised in looking after one kind of animal. You could also move into education or conservation research.

Industries

Zookeeper will usually work in one of the following industries. Click below to find out more about possible career paths.

Animal Care

From cats and dogs to endangered species, taking care of animals is a rewarding and interesting career path.

59% of households in the UK own a pet, according to a recent survey by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, while in the Republic of Ireland, this increases to an estimated 61%, so if you want to build a career around working with animals then you’re going to be spoilt for choice. Job roles are incredibly varied – if taking care of domestic animals like cats and dogs isn’t for you, why not think about veterinarian work where you help look after wildlife or livestock? Or if you go wild for exotic species, why not explore the dynamic worlds of conservation and zookeeping?

The choices are endless and every role – and route into it – is different. It’s worth spending a little bit of time thinking about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the kind of animals you’d like to work with – we’ve put together a few options for you to think about.

  • Over 120,000 people work in Veterinary and Animal Care services occupations in the UK.

  • Between the RSPCA, SSCPA and USPCA charities, over 32,000 animals in the UK were rehomed or released in 2020

  • There are over 1,500 veterinary businesses in the Republic of Ireland, employing almost 4,000 people

  • During 2021, the Dog Trust charity in the Republic of Ireland received 2,155 requests from people wanting to rehome a dog, and increase on the previous year of 82%

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Qualifications

Qualifications for a Zookeeper

These courses are perfect if you are starting out on your career but they are also great for people already in jobs who want to improve their skills.

To find out more about qualification levels in the Republic of Ireland, please visit National Framework of Qualifications for Ireland (NFQIE)

To find out more about qualification levels in Scotland please visit Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

Select level
Title Level
Training for a Zookeeper

These courses are perfect if you are starting out on your career but they are also great for people already in jobs who want to improve their skills.

About Apprenticeships

Work, earn and learn

Whether you’re just starting out in the workplace, want to upskill or are considering changing direction, Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to build your career. Apprenticeships combine work with on-the-job training, so if you want to earn as you learn, there’s an apprenticeship out there for you – you can even start an apprenticeship if you already have a degree.

Apprenticeships for a career as an Zookeeper

All about Apprenticeships

Work, earn and learn – no matter where you are in your career, an apprenticeship can set you up for a bright future.

Let’s get started!

Want to take on an apprentice? Employers start here.

What is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a unique blend of work experience and study to help build the skills and knowledge you need for your career. Apprentices are employees – they have a contract, are paid and get the same benefits as everyone else. But the difference between an apprenticeship and a normal job is that apprentices are regularly released from work for training. Sometimes that’s a day a week, sometimes it’s for a longer block – it all depends on the job and the apprenticeship.

Apprentices work for all kinds of people at all kinds of stages in their lives. Most apprentices fall into one of three categories:

  • someone who is just starting their career
  • someone who already has a job and wants to move forward in their company
  • someone who already has a job and wants to retrain to make a career change.

Previously restricted to school leavers and young people, apprenticeships are now a dynamic way of retraining people of all ages - there’s no upper age limit. The minimum age to become an apprentice is 16 and candidates can’t be in full-time education.

Benefits of an Apprenticeship

Apprenticeships offer a unique combination of paid work and study. They’re an exciting option for anyone who wants to gain experience, upskill or change career while working.

They offer a chance to work, learn and earn:

  • workplace experience and skills development
  • a nationally recognised qualification
  • employee benefits and a wage
  • no student loans or tuition fees
  • contact with industry professionals.

Vacancies

Interested in becoming an apprentice? Search for current opportunities and apply here.

Find your apprenticeship

You can also check vacancies on employer websites or get in touch with your local careers service.

Apprenticeship Stories

What’s it like to work, earn and learn? Find out what apprentice life is really like.

Explore apprenticeship stories

Alternatives to Apprenticeships

Useful Information

Useful Links

Association of British and Irish Wild Animal Keepers (ABWAK)
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Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS)
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The Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Find out more

British and Irish Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA)
Find out more

Funding Options

Thinking about your finances is important when you're looking at courses and training - different types of funding support is available depending on what type of course you're interested in and where you are located. We recommend you contact the training provider for more information on course costs and financing, but here are some links to connect you to support available:

SkillSeeder

SkillSeeder is an online skill sharing marketplace creating new opportunities to learn and share skills. Wherever you are located - if you have a skill to share, or a skill to learn, SkillSeeder can help.

Initially founded as a response to the Scottish Government’s CivTech 5 programme in 2020 and aiming to offer a platform for those in rural or remote locations, SkillSeeder has progressed to a UK-wide skill sharing resource. If you have a skill to share with others or are a training provider, list your workshop or course (all skills from all sectors are welcome). If you are a learner, use SkillSeeder to search for and book a course!

STEM

STEM is an approach to learning and development that incorporates the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Learning in STEM connects to Education for Sustainable Development/Learning for Sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals – this helps learners to understand that STEM plays a vital role in finding solutions to real world issues or challenges such as protecting biodiversity and tackling climate change. There are multiple pathways into a land-based STEM career including apprenticeships, further and higher education. This means that a career in STEM is open to everyone!

STEM Learning is the largest provider of STEM education and careers support in the UK. Their STEM Ambassadors programme sees volunteers representing a vast range of STEM-related jobs work with young people to bring STEM subjects alive through real life experiences. They help to open the doors to a world of opportunities and possibilities which come from pursuing STEM subjects and careers. To become a STEM Ambassador, you can register via the STEM Learning website: https://www.stem.org.uk/stem-ambassadors/join-stem-ambassador-programme

Lantra have worked in collaboration with STEM Ambassadors in Scotland to create two specific UK-wide Ambassadors schemes - Forestry and Aquaculture. Through these schemes, we want to make sure that those working in forestry and aquaculture have the support materials they need to take part in STEM activities. To find out more and register for the schemes, please follow the links below:

Smart Futures helps young people in Ireland discover the STEM subjects and careers that might be right for them. Co-ordinated and managed by Science Foundation Ireland, their programme allows young people to connect with people that are working in STEM, the organisations they’re working in and what their interests and skills are.

Not sure what you want to do?

Why not take a look at the Industries Explorer as an introduction to the different areas you could work in.

If we can support you with any specific information, please click the button below to get in touch.