The educational requirements of a zookeeper vary based on where the zoo is located and what the administrative staff has decided to prioritize when hiring zookeepers for their zoo.
Most zoos require a minimum of a grade 12 diploma (or equivalent) to be eligible for any position, from zookeeping to bookkeeping. High school courses in biology, physiology, and business will be helpful for aspiring zookeepers looking to start expanding their knowledge towards this trade.
Some zoos require that their zookeepers have a university degree in a related field, such as zoology, biology, or animal sciences. This is particularly important if the zookeepers will be deeply involved with medical procedures or the scientific observation of a particular animal species. Coursework in ecology, genetics, wildlife diversity, and reproductive biology are essential to zookeepers focusing on conservation and assisted reproduction of animals to be released back into the wild. University biology programs often have “co-op” components that can be extremely helpful to the aspiring zookeeper hoping to boost their eligibility: terms of academic coursework are alternated with hands-on internships so that the student graduates with a wealth of practical experience in their field.
A diploma and experience in veterinary technology or vet assistance can be helpful for an applicant looking to start a career in zookeeping and gives the applicant experience in proper care and nutritional basics of animals. An educational specialty in exotic pets gives a broader scope of care to students with that program option available.
Prior experience in a related field is usually an essential part of becoming a zookeeper. This includes volunteering at animal shelters, working with farm animals, doing research in wildlife and natural resources, or helping with conservation efforts of endangered animals. Volunteer programs are sometimes available at local zoos for youth who are interested in potentially pursuing zookeeping as a career. Many countries worldwide have wildlife sanctuaries that accept volunteers as well.
Several online open colleges have certificate programs in monitoring and caring for captive exotic animals that are available for anyone to take. These are particularly helpful for those applicants without an applicable degree but have a wealth of work experience: the courses will introduce the student to the tasks of administering medications, designing and maintaining habitats, and measures for their own safety and the safety of the public while interacting with the animals.
Remember that zoos have many other employees too, and finding zoo employment other than zookeeping may be a good way for you to move into the trade over time and with more experience. Working behind the scenes in organization, maintenance, human resources, or administration are great ways to get to know the zoo’s management and shadow the zookeepers as they perform their duties.
Zookeepers continue to learn and take continuing education courses throughout their career as research and knowledge of animal species improves. As such, a desire to learn new things each and every day while delivering high-quality animal care are the best qualifications you can bring to the zookeeper job.