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How to become an Animal Keeper

Being an Animal Keeper is a ‘dream job’ for many people, making it one of the most competitive careers to get started in. Read on to find out what it really takes to kick start your career as an Animal Keeper…

Whether you’ve been inspired by one of David Attenborough’s documentaries, visited a local zoo and seen an Animal Keeper working first hand, or perhaps you’re just plain crazy about critters – whatever sparked your interest in becoming an Animal Keeper, were here to help with 5 key tips to help you achieve your dream job… 

1.) Passion, dedication and hard work 

It may seem obvious, but Animal Keeping is not for the faint of heart. Come rain or shine, the animals need looking after 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – so you need to be certain it’s your passion! 

There are usually many Keepers working within zoos across different sections, so the earlier you can focus on developing an area with one particular species, the better chances you’ll have in the long run of developing your career further and becoming a specialist. Some keepers work with a wide variety of animals, such as birds, mammals, and reptiles, while others may have more focus on specific groups such as primates or large cats. Duties of an Animal Keeper tend to include; 

  • Preparing and distributing food and water to animals
  • Closely monitoring the animals and reporting any animal health concerns
  • Maintaining enclosures, food preparation and public viewing areas 
  • Answering enquiries from the public, and possibly delivering animal encounter sessions 

2.) Getting your foot on the ladder

Before you start looking at education and qualification routes, from time to time rare opportunities do arise for Trainee Animal Keepers, where there may not be a strict requirement for specific qualifications. 

These roles offer a fantastic opportunity to build up your experience and give you an insight into working with a range of animals and the duties involved, providing you with invaluable experiences to add to your CV!

Whilst you may not need a qualification – these opportunities are extremely competitive, so you’ll need to make sure your application stands out, and the perfect way to do this is to gain this experience through volunteer work / apprenticeships such as working within:

  • Farms 
  • Riding stables
  • Kennels
  • Veterinary offices 
  • Wildlife rehabilitation centres

Zoos also often tend to offer limited numbers of these opportunities, so it’s always best to stay up to date just in case the opportunity arises – so make sure you’re signed up to receive email job alerts.

Once your foot is firmly on the ladder, you’ll find these positions can potentially lead to employment opportunities within the same zoo and can even open the door to opportunities at other zoos across the UK.

3.) Education

Whilst experience is key for developing your career as an Animal Keeper, there will be times when zoos will be looking for an individual who is qualified to degree level in a relevant field, such as a degree in:

  • Animal management
  • Zoological sciences (Zoology, marine zoology, and animal biology)
  • Animal behaviour and welfare
  • Conservation sciences
If you’re considering studying a Zoology degree or similar – What Uni have compiled a list of the highest rated universities offering a Zoology qualification – click here to find out more.

4.) Apply, apply, apply!

When you feel you have sufficient experience / education under your belt, it’s time to find the perfect role for you. Animal keeping is a highly sought-after role, and you’ll often be competing against hundreds of other applicants – so if you’re unsuccessful with your first application, DO NOT be deterred!

You may need to try and try again, ensuring that you are always on the radar for the employer, telling them why YOU are the perfect candidate to join their team. Ensure your CV is always up to date, and include a tailored covering letter giving a detailed explanation why you are head and shoulders above the competition. It is also important to note on your application if you are willing to travel / relocate – with zoos being all across the UK, your dream career might not be at your local zoo.

5.) Climb the ladder

Once you have made it into the animal kingdom as an Animal Keeper, it doesn’t have to stop there! You can keep advancing your career to more senior positions such as Senior Keeper, Head Keeper or Team Leader, Assistant Curator, etc. You could also look into the paths such as conservation research, education etc. The key thing is to find your passion early and follow that path – the sooner the better! 

So, there you have it – 5 key things you need to know about becoming an Animal Keeper - it may seem like a long road ahead, but there really is no other job quite like it! 

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