Animal

Zookeeper

Zookeepers look after animals in zoos, safari parks and aquariums.

Annual Salary

£12,000 to £25,000

Average UK salary in 2018 was £29,588 (source Office for Statistics)

Working hours

37 to 40

What's it all about?

You could work in small or large zoos and safari parks owned privately or by charities. You could work with mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish.

You could also work in sea zoos and aquariums.

Your day-to-day tasks may include:

  • preparing food and feeding animals
  • cleaning out pens and cages and changing bedding
  • making sure animals live in as close to natural conditions as possible
  • checking for signs of distress or disease and caring for sick animals
  • checking enclosures and cages for signs of wear or damage
  • monitoring conditions like temperature and humidity
  • keeping daily healthcare records on paper and computer
  • giving educational talks to children and adults

You'll usually work with one type of animal or in a particular section of the zoo.

University

You can do a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree in:

  • animal or zoo management
  • animal behaviour and welfare
  • zoology or marine zoology
  • animal conservation and biodiversity
  • veterinary science
  • biology

Zoos vary in what qualifications they ask for and it can depend on what their zookeepers are going to do.

You'll usually need:

  • 1 or 2 A levels for a foundation degree or higher national diploma
  • 2 or 3 A levels, including a science, for a degree

College

You could do a course before applying to a zoo for a trainee zookeeper's job. Relevant courses include:

  • Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management
  • Level 3 Diploma in Animal Care or Animal Science
  • Biology A level

You'll usually need:

  • 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English, maths and science

Apprenticeship

You could start by doing an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship in animal care or animal care and welfare. This may help you to get a job as a trainee keeper with a zoo.

You could also do a keeper or aquarist advanced apprenticeship, depending on where you work.

You may be able to specialise in training zoo animals by completing an animal trainer higher apprenticeship.

You'll usually need:

  • some GCSEs, usually including English and maths, for an intermediate apprenticeship
  • 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), usually including English and maths, for an advanced apprenticeship
  • 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent qualifications, for a higher or a degree apprenticeship

Other Routes

Some zoos may ask for A levels or an equivalent qualification in animal care or animal science. Others may ask for a higher level qualification like a foundation degree or degree.

You'll need experience of working with animals. You could volunteer in a zoo or safari park. Find your nearest one at British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).

Some zoos run unpaid work placements or internships. You could also get experience with animals at a farm, kennels or riding stables.

You may need clearance from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

£12,000 to £25,000

Starter salary: £12,000 to £14,000

Experienced salary: £16,000 to £20,000

You may get free or subsidised accommodation.

These figures are a guide.

37 to 40

You'll usually work shifts including weekends and bank holidays. Outside your working hours, you may be on a rota for call-outs.

You could spend a lot of time outside in all weathers. This work is physically demanding.

You may need a driving licence if you're working in a large zoo or safari park.

In larger zoos, you could progress from keeper to team leader or head keeper. With experience and a degree, you could become a curator.

You could also move into education or conservation research.

You can find out more about working in zoos from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Skills required and how your skills match up

What skills are required?

You'll need:

  • the ability to handle animals with confidence and compassion
  • observation skills
  • excellent communication and IT skills 
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