How would you describe a typical day in your role?
The most important job in the morning is to check on and feed all the animals you’re responsible for. A large part of my day is spent making sure all the enclosures are clean and tidy. Once this is finished, I will try and provide as much enrichment as possible by ensuring the animals are mentality stimulated. The last task of the day is to check on the animals to make sure they are safe, warm and have enough food and water overnight.
What are the best and worst things about being a zookeeper?
The best aspect of my job is feeling you are making a difference to animal welfare and conservation. Many of the species that I work with are listed as endangered or threatened and are part of international breeding programmes. For example, the scimitar-horned oryx is extinct in the wild so to work with the species and be involved with their reintroduction into the wild is a real privilege and very rewarding. The hardest thing about my job is losing animals that you have cared for and worked with for a long time.
What skills does a zookeeper need?
A zookeeper needs to have a keen interest in animals, their natural history and their welfare. Being able to understand animal behaviour and good observation skills are also very important. You need to be able to spot the smallest changes to the animals in your care and understand what they mean. Being physically fit is also vital as my job involves cleaning and sweeping and lifting heavy things, such as hay, straw bales and bags of food. Being able to work as part of a team is helpful, as well as being confident enough to work in and around animals on your own. You need to be comfortable communicating with members of the public and able to answer questions about animals in the zoo. Be prepared to work in all weathers as animals will always need to be looked after. My colleagues and I are always outside working in the rain, snow, wind and sun and even on Christmas Day!
What advice would you give to an aspiring zookeeper?
The zoo keeping industry is very competitive so gaining as much experience with as many different species as you can is the best thing you can do. Volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door and will let you find out whether being a zookeeper is the right animal-based job for you. In terms of progression, zookeepers can work towards a senior keeper role, followed by a management role. There are also many other jobs at zoos that involve managing studbooks, nutrition or conservation research.