Zookeepers have a highly demanding job. They are responsible for the care and health of zoo animals behind the scenes and are also the public face of the zoo and must interact with and educate visitors. You'll need experience working with animals along with higher education for entry-level zookeeping positions. Many zookeepers start as volunteers or interns and are subsequently hired. In addition to gaining animal experience, a degree in the life, physical or animal sciences can improve your chances of employment as a zookeeper.
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Animal science is a relevant subject to study in order to begin a career as a zookeeper because the degree provides a background in all aspects of animal husbandry, including nutrition, behaviour, health, breeding, genetics and management. Animal science graduates get an overview of all animals, and most departments offer the opportunity to minor in specialities like equine science, farm animals, domestic animals or wildlife. Students can specialise in animal physiology, animal behaviour or animal nutrition to increase experience with topics related to zookeeping.
Zoology and biology are practically designed for a zookeeping career because they both encompass the study of all forms of life. A zookeeper candidate that has studied animals and the ecosystems they inhabit has an advantage when it comes to animal husbandry. Zoology students take courses that approach the discipline from all perspectives, including animal care, research and conservation. More specific life sciences like marine biology, ecology, molecular biology, neuroscience and plant sciences can also prepare graduates for a career in zoos.
An environmental science degree can give candidates an advantage because most zoos and aquariums have conservation programs. Zookeepers with skills in those areas can serve as assistants to researchers and work on special conservation projects. Similar degrees in conservation biology, wildlife management, forestry and environmental studies provide the opportunity to bring a diverse skill set and knowledge base to a zookeeping position and increase the potential for career advancement.
A strong background in chemistry along with experience working with animals is a good combination for a zookeeping candidate. Because much of the research done at zoos and aquariums can be very technical, a candidate with advanced laboratory and research skills can be more attractive to employers. Chemistry departments often allow students to specialise in biochemistry or environmental chemistry, which are more relevant to work as a zookeeper.
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