How to become a Zookeeper. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about Zookeeper careers.
What does a Zookeeper do?
Zookeepers look after animals in zoos, safari parks, aquariums and specialised collections.
Your tasks as a zookeeper would include:
- preparing food and feeding animals
- providing fresh bedding and water
- cleaning out pens and cages
- 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.
You would usually work with a particular type of animal or in a specific section of the zoo.
As animals need to be looked after seven days a week, you will usually work on a shift system including weekends and bank holidays. Senior zookeepers may be on a call-out rota.
You could spend a lot of time outside in all weathers, depending on the type of animal. Some parts of your work, such as cleaning out cages and enclosures, are likely to be dirty and smelly.
How much does a Zookeeper earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Salaries can start at around £16,000 a year.
- Salaries for senior zookeepers can range from around £17,000 to over £20,000.
Free or subsidised accommodation may be provided in some jobs.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
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 similar qualifications, perhaps including English and a science subject.
Most employers will expect you to have experience of working with animals. Zoos usually have volunteer programmes, and you might be able to gain experience by getting involved in one of these. However, the programmes are very popular, so you might have to join a waiting list.
Check with individual zoos and wildlife parks to find out about volunteering opportunities – see the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums website for contact details. You can find out about other opportunities for volunteering with animals by checking the do-it.org.uk website.
You will need a driving licence for work in safari parks.
You may find it useful to complete a course in animal care or animal management before looking for work, although this is not essential. Courses include:
- BTEC Level 2 First Certificate/Diploma in Animal Care
- BTEC and NPTC Level 2 Award/Certificate/Diploma in Animal Care
- NPTC and ABC Award/Certificate/Diploma in Work-based Animal Care at levels 1 and 2.
You should check with colleges for their entry requirements.
You may be able to get into this job through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. To find out more about Apprenticeships, visit the Apprenticeships website.
Training and Development
Once you start work as a zookeeper, you will receive practical on-the-job training.
If you do not already have a relevant qualification, most employers will expect you to complete a qualification such as:
- NPTC or ABC Award/Certificate/Diploma in Work-based Animal Care at levels 1 to 3
- BTEC Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in animal management at Level 3
- NPTC Advanced National Diploma in Animal Management at Level 3.
You could also develop your career by completing courses including:
- Foundation Degree in Zoo Resource Management at Sparsholt College – two year part-time block release
- Foundation Degree in Zoo Management at Reaseheath College – available full- or part-time
- foundation degrees and degrees in animal management at other colleges and universities.
Check with the colleges for details:
- Sparsholt College
- Reaseheath College
To search for foundation degree and degree courses, see the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service website.
- Universities and Colleges Admissions Service
Once you have a degree you could further develop your knowledge by taking a postgraduate qualification such as a Masters in zoology.
Skills and Knowledge
- a strong interest in looking after animals
- confidence and patience when working with animals
- good observational skills
- awareness of health and safety
- stamina and physical fitness
- good ‘people’ skills for working with the public.
Vacancies usually attract very high numbers of applications, but 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. With a lot of experience and/or a degree you could become a curator. There are usually less opportunities for promotion in smaller zoos, so you may need to move to another zoo to get a job with more responsibility.