Each month we take a look at one of the 650 career pathways featured within Indigo. This month, we explore the role of a zookeeper.
Trainee zookeeper Adam Nickleson shares his insights with this video career profile from the Indigo Careers module.
So what is a zookeeper?
Zookeepers can work in a zoo, safari, wildlife park or aquarium where they will care for animals and their surroundings.
You will provide food, water and fresh bedding for the animals in your care. You will clean out enclosures and check the animals for signs of injury or disease, keeping records of feeding, health and behaviour and informing veterinary staff if there are any issues.
Many zoos stress the importance of conservation and education and some of your work may involve leading tours and giving presentations to visitors.
Animals require 24/7 care so you will be expected to work 5–6 days a week. This is normally organised on a shift system which includes early mornings, late evenings, weekends and bank holidays, especially during busy periods.
Work could be seasonal as some centres close for part of the year.
You could work in a zoo, safari, wildlife park or aquarium.
Type of work
Your work will be physically demanding and often dirty. A uniform will be provided. If you suffer from allergies, this work will be difficult for you.
Things to consider
Little progression opportunity This can be difficult work to enter and progress in.
Low earnings or unstable income The financial rewards can be small.
Exciting projects/opportunities The role of zoos as centres of breeding and supporting conservation has increased recently, so you could undertake important work.
Can specialise You will be working with some unusual or exotic animals, with some opportunity to specialise.
Most people have a certificate of further education and you will need previous experience/passion for the field
No specific qualifications are required for entry although GCSEs/National 5s (C or above, or 4 or above in England), especially in English and science subjects, will be useful. It is, however, becoming increasingly necessary to gain higher level qualifications as this is a very competitive area.
Foundation degrees or Honours degrees in subjects like zoology are also available. For instance, Sparsholt College in Hampshire offers a Foundation degree in Animal and Zoo Management lasting 2 years. Typical entry requirements for a degree course are 2 A levels/3 H grades, including a science, and 5 GCSEs/National 5s.
Experience, proven interest and interaction with animals is incredibly important and sometimes favoured over qualifications. As well as this, it is often a requirement of an application. Volunteering at a zoo or animal sanctuary would be beneficial, but these programmes are very popular and you may be placed on a waiting list. Apprenticeships may be available if you are aged 16–24.
Salary progression Trainees can start at around £14,000 per year.
With experience, this can rise to £20,000.
Senior keepers earn around £25,000 a year.
General animal care and management courses are available and include the NVQ in Animal Care (Levels 1–3), the ABC Award and Diploma in Work-based Animal Care (Levels 1–3), the City & Guilds Certificates in Animal Care (Levels 2–3) (0074), and the Advanced National Level 3 Diploma in Animal Management. Alternatively, there are the BTEC qualifications in Animal Management (Levels 2–3), and the BTEC Level 4 HNC and Level 5 HND in Animal Management.
Emma Davies works within the editorial department at Trotman Publishing. Graduating from her Masters degree in 2017, she is familiar with all aspects of the student journey through university. She is passionate about helping students find the right career, and was a member of the SYP’s inaugural committee in the South West.