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What is this job like?
Many people like animals, but taking care of them is hard work. Zookeepers take care of wild animals in zoos and animal parks. They feed the animals, clean their living spaces, and work to keep them healthy.
Zookeepers watch the animals to see if they are sick or hurt. Keepers need to watch and listen carefully to notice any changes in behavior. Keepers write detailed notes about each animal and tell a veterinarian if there is a problem.
Some keepers give the animals objects to play with and explore. Many animals like playing with logs, sandboxes, and even water sprinklers. Keepers often hide food for the animals to find. Playing with food and toys helps animals stay active.
Sometimes, keepers train the animals to make caring for them easier. For example, keepers train elephants to lift their feet so that veterinarians can check them.
Teaching people about animals is another keeper task. Keepers answer people's questions and give presentations.
People who like animals often like working with them. Keepers like getting to know the animals. They also like helping with research. And they like learning how to help endangered animals in the wild.
But zookeeping can be a dirty job. Keepers have to clean exhibit areas. Many keepers work outside in rain, heat, and all sorts of other weather. They sometimes carry heavy containers of food. And because animals eat every day, most keepers work on weekends and holidays.
Zoo work can also be dangerous. Wild animals can bite, kick, scratch, or spread disease. Keepers almost never pet the animals.
How do you get ready?
Many keepers go to college for 2 or 4 years. They often study biology, animal science, or some other science. Keepers also need to understand math so that they can measure food properly. Keepers need good writing and speaking skills so that they can take notes and talk to the public.
Keepers need experience caring for animals. Before working at a zoo, many keepers work in veterinary offices, animal shelters, or farms. In those jobs, they clean animal cages and feed, watch, and care for animals.
Experience in a zoo is also good. Many keepers start as zoo volunteers.
How many jobs are there?
In 2008, there were about 220,400 animal care and service workers. A very small number of these worked as zookeepers.What about the future?
Employment of animal care and service workers is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2018. But jobs as zookeepers are expected to grow more slowly than other animal care jobs.
Jobs for zookeepers are harder to find than other kinds of animal jobs because there are relatively few zoos. Plus, many people want zoo jobs so there is very strong competition for the work.
How much does this job pay?
In May 2008, animal caretakers had average yearly wages of $21,550.
Are there other jobs like this?
Agricultural workers (animal breeders, game-farm helpers, gamekeepers, livestock farm workers, poultry breeders)
Biological scientists (wildlife biologists and zoologists)
Retail salespersons (in pet stores)
Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers
Veterinary technologists and technicians