Before you read
further. Are you really sure that a Zoo Keeping Career is what
you are after? It is not like other jobs because it is not simply
work. It is a vocation, a way of life. Forget about making money,
forget about becoming famous, forget about 9 to 5 and long holidays.
Be prepared to face extreme cold or intense heat, rain, hail, snow,
gales and lack of sleep. You are guaranteed to work long hard days
when you have a hangover or headache and would have much preferred
to have stayed at home in bed. It is highly likely you will have
to skip holidays or days off at a moments notice. Don’t expect applaud
or thanks or even sympathy because you will not get any.
then read on.
What you will
get is job satisfaction. The chance to contribute to our understanding
of animals and an important role in ensuring that they remain on
this planet for future generations to enjoy. You will have the chance
to work outdoors in the best of weather too, when those in other
lines of work are shut up in their suffocating offices. You will
become a member of a big zoo `family`, assured of a welcome wherever
you go. Whereas there will be repetition in your daily routine,
no two days will be exactly the same. You will not get bored. You
will become party to one of the worlds best kept secret.... that
zoo keeping is the worlds best profession! You will feel good about
yourself. Well most of the time anyway. Why take my word for it,
Chat, the cyber meeting place of the worlds keepers. Okay, most
of them are letting their hair down at the end of the day, but some
useful information is exchanged too and friendships forged. Ask
them about their work. Say Sciurus sent you! For answers
to some of the most commonly asked questions about zoos go to Ask
as a zoo keeper today is something of a ‘Catch 22’ situation. Most
advertisements you will see will say “City and Guilds” or “Animal
Management Certificate” preferred. They will also ask for a certain
number of years experience and refer to a specific vacancy i.e.
Primate Keeper, Elephant Keeper or similar.
is that the “City & Guilds Animal Management Certificate” is
only obtainable on successful completion of the National Extension
College’s Animal Management Course and the only way to complete
the course is to be working in a zoo. This is because there is a
practical element for which regular assessment is essential. Ideally
the course is to be taken over two years plus, though less is possible,
dependent on your zoo tutor. Completion in under 8 months is neither
practicable nor desirable as assessments are normally made every
two to three months.
their staff by several different approaches :
1/ By advertising
in `Cage & Aviary Birds`, `New Scientist`, `Ratel`, ` International
Zoo News` or other specialised journals or the local press.
Just recently the internet also.
2/ By referring
to unsolicited application letters held on file.
3/ By promoting
trainees to full time positions.
4/ By internal
promotion from other departments i.e. horticulture.
5/ By taking
on volunteers or temporary employees who have shown potential.
Some zoos will
use all of these methods dependent on the posts they are trying
to fill. Though they are few in number there are one or two collections
which will not take on staff who have worked anywhere else. These
zoo directors prefer to have inexperienced employees which they
can train in house. Typically they have a high turnover, though
this is not evident as most of the staff are taken on locally and
so not widely advertised.
As more university
graduates appear on the already saturated job market more and more
keeper positions are being taken up by them. Zoo directors will
usually overlook the lack of practical experience or zoo qualifications
in favour of a suitable degree. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
The zoo keeping profession has never been accepted as such. The
old stereotype of s@*t shoveller is still there. It is looked upon
as a job of work akin to farming. Apart from sharing animal husbandry
as a major part of the work the similarity ends. Farming is profit
motivated, Zoo Keeping is not. Hopefully as the academic calibre
of the average keeper rises due to graduate input there may be more
of a shift towards an official and well deserved recognition of
Keeping as a Profession.
your chances of getting a Keeper job.
zoos will be looking for experienced and academically able staff
you can improve your chances by amassing various other skills. If
you already have keepering experience then so much the better, however
the following will be a big help.
(a) Get yourself
a driving license. It is surprising how often zoos will need a
driver, it is often asked for in advertisements for keepers, particularly
by smaller zoos.
to drive a tractor. Again this is something many keepers have
to learn to do. If you are already versed in the art in reversing
a trailer you get yourself an extra point.
First Aid. Any attraction which is open to the public needs a
first aider, someone accredited by the Red Cross or St Johns Ambulance
in the First Aid at work course. Zoos have to pay to train their
own staff. This costly in both time and money so if you have already
got this potential employers will look more favourably upon you.
to shoot. Get yourself a firearm certificate. Any zoo which holds
large and/or dangerous animals will be required to have a procedure
for dangerous animal escape. This will normally involve the use
of fireams. If you already have a certificate this is another
computer literate. Although larger zoos will have their own records
officer the smaller zoos usually do not. Being familiar with a
computer and the main software packages would stand you in good
up a range of useful skills. Take a look at the various short
term courses advertised by zoos or other animal related organisations.
`Practical Incubation` would be an extremely useful one and is
generally run each year.
(g) If time
and money are no object then some very useful courses are run
by the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust i.e. The Jersey Summer
School or their Certificate in Endangered Species Management.
Demand for places are high so get your name down early. Similar
courses are run periodically by Edinburgh zoo.
(h) Get some
experience in wildlife rehabilitation. Ask the RSPCA for the address
of nearest rehabber. These people could do with the help, so the
benefits go both ways.
(i) Look at
seasonal zoo employment. Many of the larger zoos will take on
temporary employees during the summer. Although there is no guarantee
of you being kept on full time, it is possible, it has happened.
involved. If a particular species holds your interest, find out
if there is a Taxon Advisory Group for it.
Check out the chairperson and volunteer to do research on behalf
of the TAG. Most of the people involved are overstretched
and could do with the help. It is a toe on the ladder, and if
you prove useful it may mean moving up a few rungs.
How do I
take the City & Guilds Animal Management Course if I am not
working in a zoo?
Anyone can take
the course. It is simply a case of paying out your money and working
through it at a pace that suits yourself. You may find once you
have started in that it is not what you thought it was after all
and therefore you have not lost anything but a bit of cash.
If you do find
it interesting and would like to go on to taking the exam then it
is essential that you get work in a zoo so that you can be practically
assessed. You will also have to find someone in that zoo who is
prepared to act as your zoo tutor and carry out the practical assessments.
This is a major
stumbling block for young people with zoo career aspirations, particularly
if there are no zoos in their locale. I can’t pretend that there
is an easy answer to this one. Even if there is a zoo down the road
it may not be in a position to take you on as a volunteer. Because
volunteer you must, to make up the time and gain the experience
for your practical assessments. This is going to mean at least
one day per week over a period of two or more years. It is not going
to be easy, but where there is a will there is a way. I know a lot
of keepers who started out just this way. Giving up their work,
moving away, getting part time employment somewhere else or selling
their homes or cars to pay their keep. In one case living in a tent
whilst they trained. These people did it! Fulfilled their dreams.
You could too. Perhaps the measures you take do not have to be so
drastic. There are number of colleges up and down the country which
have links with zoos, or are situated quite close to one. These
colleges may offer animal related courses, `Animal Care`, `Equine
Studies` or something similar. Okay its not what you are after but
it is of help. Enrolling on such a course may mean you can move,
albeit temporarily, close to a zoo which may be prepared to offer
you the voluntary work you so much need.