When I started as a Zookeeper (back in the bronze age), the zoo profession was starting to apply more stringent educational requirements, and we were beginning to see people entering the field with exotic animal husbandry and management as their professional career goal. Today, it is common for most zoos to require keeper candidates to have four-year degrees in biology, zoology or other science-related curriculum. There are also a number of zoos requiring keeper hopefuls to have Master's degrees.
Here at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, we require a Bachelor's degree in the animal sciences or related field with at least 6 months of full time experience with captive exotic animals. I can't express the value of animal experience enough. When we advertise an open Animal Keeper position nationally through a network of zoos, we may get more than 300 applications. Applicants with animal experience will immediately move ahead of those without. Some of the best advice I can give you is to get animal care experience (preferably exotic) any way you can, even if you need to volunteer. It will pay off when you start to look for an Animal Keeper position. The competition for keeper positions in zoos is fierce, and you need to be equipped to vie for a job with the other 299 candidates.
That is the first glimpse into what we look for in our zookeeper candidates. In the next blog I will talk about other things you need to know about a career in this great profession.