Spending your days next to funny-looking chimps and adorable giraffes might sound like your idea of fun, but the duties of a zoo keeper involve putting up with a lot crap, quite literally. Working in scorching and frigid temperatures (sometimes in the same day!), constantly getting wet and dirty and coming in on weekends and holidays is the norm. But for all the hard work put in, you'll get the reward of knowing you made a positive difference in the lives of the animals.
From the massive outdoor lion exhibits to the smaller, but no less important, snake enclosures, zoo keepers put in a lot of manual labor ensuring everything is clean. Expect to scrub down water and food containers, disinfect hard surfaces, rake substrate, haul waste out of the enclosures and freshen up anything that can and will get dirty. These are all daily tasks, and some, such as the removal of waste, require your attention multiple times a day. After all, an elephant can eat over 330 pounds of food a day, and it all has to go somewhere. You'll also need to help with the cleaning of certain animals. Daily cleaning of enclosures and animals prevents the animals from falling ill and keeps the zoo as attractive as an establishment with a host of wild animals can be.
Not only does 330 pounds of food mean a lot of waste, in the case of elephants, it also means a lot of preparation for zoo keepers. And since zoo keepers aren't typically assigned to one specific animal, they're spending a good portion of their time doling out meals. You'll weigh each meal to ensure the animal's health, and add any vitamins and medications that the zoo vets prescribe.
Without lots of training, a giraffe is going to give you a strange look if you give him a cue to go into his pen. Likewise, getting an elephant to lift his foot for a quick inspection or cleaning is impossible without training. But that's where you'll come in as a zoo keeper. Training allows for more effective interaction with the animals, plus it provides an opportunity for enrichment. As with domesticated animals, you'll use positive reinforcement to train the zoo inhabitants.
Interacting With Visitors
Throughout your day as a zoo keeper, you'll interact with loads of people. You'll need to convey information about animals and the zoo and answer any questions folks might have. You might also be in charge of close encounters with certain animals, such as tortoises, birds and baby crocodiles. You'll talk about the animal, keep it calm and explain to onlookers how they should pet or touch it, if they're allowed.
A zoo keeper is the eyes and ears of the entire zoo. With a pencil and a bit of paper, you'll jot down information and keep records about each animal you tend to. Appearance and behavior are paramount to keeping animals in good spirits and good health. Any abnormalities, such as weight loss, loss of appetite or aggression, needs to be reported to the zoo vets immediately.
- SeaWorld: Elephants -- Diet and Eating Habits
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment: Zookeepers
- American Association of Zoo Keepers: So, You Want to Be a Zoo Keeper, Trainer, or an Aquarist?
- Association of Zoos & Aquariums: AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care
- Battlecreek American Association of Zookeepers: Battlecreek AAZK
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.