How to Become a Zookeeper

Zookeeper Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $59,680
Avg. Pay / hour $28.69
Education 3-4 Years
Job Outlook 16%

If you love all different types of animals, then you might like to become a zookeeper.

Zookeepers see to the health, happiness, and well-being of animals in a zoo.

They also help to educate the public about animals, and raise awareness about conservation projects.

To become a zookeeper you will need to have a genuine interest in animals.

You’ll also need to not mind a bit of hard work and getting dirty.

The tasks of a zookeeper are more strenuous than you might think.

To become a zookeeper you’ll need a college degree.

Entrance into this occupation can be competitive, and many start out as volunteers who are later promoted to paid employees.

Education Requirements to Become a Zookeeper

If you’re in high school and would like to become a zookeeper then a good idea is to study math and science.

Getting any experience with animals will be helpful, and you could volunteer at an animal shelter or national park in your area.

At college you’ll need to complete a four year bachelor degree in biology or zoology.

While this isn’t a formal requirement for the role, the amount of competition surrounding it means that it is rare for a person to get a position without this practical experience.

If you can complete an internship in a zoo or wildlife park while you are at college then this would be particularly helpful.

Most candidates start out as volunteers in zoos.

They may work in this capacity for a while, and when a paid position comes up, volunteers are often considered before outside applicants.

If you want to become a zookeeper you may have to work for free, at least for a little while.

Zookeeper Job Description

A zookeeper looks after the health of the animals in a zoo.

When you become a zookeeper, it will be your responsibility to feed and water the animals at specific times.

You will have to monitor their diet and make sure they are eating well.

You’ll also need to clean their enclosures.

A zookeeper also looks after recreation for animals.

They will set up games and toys for animals to play with, and may hide food or other things that will keep their interest.

Zookeepers monitor the health of animals in the zoo, often keeping charts on their habits.

If an animal is unwell, it’s the zookeeper who notices first.

When a veterinarian is called, a zookeeper stays on hand to help with examinations and treatments.

Some zookeepers assist in raising animals when they are very young, particularly if their parents are not able to.

When you become a zookeeper, you also become involved in public education.

You may design education campaigns, or hold demonstrations with animals.

Often zookeepers give talks to school groups, and also answer questions or seek to promote the protection of endangered species.

Even as a volunteer, zoos like to hire people with experience handling animals.

Work experience at a veterinarian clinic, boarding kennel, or pet store would be very valuable.

A part-time job in this vicinity is desirable.

Here are some of the tasks of a zookeeper:

  • Feeding animals
  • Cleaning enclosures
  • Setting up toys for animals
  • Communicating with veterinarians
  • Supervising breeding programs
  • Monitoring animal health
  • Giving talks and demonstrations

Zookeeper Salary and Career Path

Most zookeepers start out working as a volunteer in a zoo or wildlife park.

With a bit of experience, they will gain a paid job.

Some zookeeper go on to become specialist animal trainers.

Others undergo further training to become veterinary assistants or veterinarians.

Some work in animal breeding programs or as conservationists.

The median salary for a zookeeper is around $22,000 a year.

Growth is expected to be faster than average in this field, but competition is predicted to stay strong.

Some similar jobs to that of zookeeper include:

  • Veterinarian
  • Veterinary technician
  • Animal trainer
  • Biologist
  • Microbiologist
  • Ecologist

Working as a zookeeper is a job that gives a high level of job satisfaction.

Working with amazing animals, feeding them, and playing with them can be very rewarding.

Because of this, entry into zookeeping is competitive.

If this is your career of choice, you should definitely pursue it, but just prepare yourself to put in a year of two of hard work before you secure a paid position.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
New Hampshire$65,800
New Jersey$85,730
New Mexico$61,920
New York$76,020
North Carolina$66,930
North Dakota$73,330
South Carolina$56,020
South Dakota$57,960

The top earning state in the field is Massachusetts, where the average salary is $92,830.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Massachusetts - $92,830
New Jersey - $85,730
Alaska - $82,450
Washington - $81,310
Maryland - $81,170
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists, OCC Code 19-1023, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a zookeeper do?

A zookeeper is an animal professional whose main responsibility is maintaining the health of the animals by monitoring their physical and mental health and ensuring that their habitat is safe and stimulating.

A lot of zookeepers specialize in a certain area – working with aquatic species, big cats, birds, or elephants, for example.

The typical duties of a zookeeper on a daily basis usually include administering medication; feeding the animals; cleaning and maintaining the enclosure; assisting with veterinary procedures; reporting unusual changes in behavior; keeping detailed records, and so on.

A zookeeper can also be responsible for various educational programs offered to the public; depending on the species, the programs might include demonstrations with live animals.

How much do zookeepers make?

On average, a zookeeper can make a little less than $34.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to follow this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $21.000 and $49.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location and so on.

The zookeepers that work in Illinois, California, and Texas, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level zookeeper can earn $9 per hour, while a specialist with plenty of experience will make $19 and more.

How much does it cost to become a zookeeper?

You would certainly need either an associate’s degree at a college that is connected with a local zoo or a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, zoology, ecology, or a related field, in order to become a zookeeper.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

You should begin acquiring practical experience as soon as possible; a lot of zoos have internship programs that have been developed especially for college students.

What is the demand for zookeepers?

Between 2018 and 2028, the animal care and service workers (including zookeepers) job market is expected to grow by 16%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is a lot faster than the national average for all occupations in the United States.

The candidates that have a degree in a related field and plenty of experience will have better job perspectives.

Bear in mind that there is a limited number of zoos, thus the competition for the positions will remain strong.

How long does it take to become a zookeeper?

It will take you 2 years to acquire an associate’s degree and 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Volunteering at various organizations and seeking internship opportunities will be extremely helpful for your future career; experience in animal handling is vitally important.

Zoos often give first priority to the candidates that have interned there while still in college; moreover, paid internships are available.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *