If you are wondering how to become a zookeeper, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of working with animals or agriculture, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Zookeepers look after animals in zoos, safari parks, aquariums and specialised collections.

    Typical responsibilities:

    cleaning out pens and cages
    providing fresh bedding and water
    preparing food and feeding animals
    checking for signs of distress, disease or injury in animals
    helping to care for sick animals under the direction of a vet
    checking enclosures, cages and barriers for signs of wear or damage
    answering visitors’ questions and sometimes giving talks or lectures.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of zoo keepers include:

    a strong interest in looking after animals
    confidence in working with animals of all types
    good observational skills
    awareness of health and safety.

    How to become a zoo keeper
    You may not need any particular qualifications to start work in a zoo, although some employers may expect you to have GCSEs (A-C) or equivalent qualifications, sometimes including English and a science subject.

    Employers will usually expect you to have experience of working with animals. Most zoos have volunteer programmes, and you might be able to get experience by getting involved in one of these. However, the programmes are very popular, so you might have to join a waiting list. Visit the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) website for a list of zoos and wildlife parks.

    You can find out about other opportunities for voluntary work with animals from the Volunteering England website.

    You will need a driving licence for work in safari parks.

    You may find it useful to do a course in animal care or animal management before looking for work. Courses include:

    BTEC First Diploma and National Certificate/Diploma in Animal Care or Animal Management
    City & Guilds National Certificate and Advanced National Certificate in Animal Care
    NVQ levels 1 and 2 in Animal Care.
    You should check with colleges for their entry requirements.

    Training and Development
    When you start work as a zookeeper you will receive practical on-the-job training.

    You might be able to work towards NVQs in Animal Care. These cover the whole of the animal care industry, but at levels 2 and 3 you can do optional units in Zoos/Wildlife Establishments.

    When you have worked as a zookeeper for at least a year, you can do a two year part-time block release foundation degree in Zoo Resource Management at Sparsholt College in Winchester.

    You can also do foundation degrees and degrees in Animal Management at some colleges and universities.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Salaries can start at around £12,000 a year.
    Senior zoo keepers can earn from around £14,000 to over £20,000.

    Job Prospects
    As a zookeeper you could work in zoos, safari/wildlife parks, bird collections and aquariums.

    There are always very large numbers of applicants for each vacancy. You may be able to join a waiting list if employers think you are a suitable applicant.

    In larger zoos, you may be able to progress from keeper to head keeper. When you have extensive experience and/or a degree you might be able to become a curator. There may be less opportunities for promotion in smaller zoos, so you may need to move to another zoo to get a job with more responsibility.

    Useful resources:
    Sparsholt College
    SO21 2NF
    Tel: 01962 776441

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