Zoo Career Options and Salaries

Zoo vet operating on crocodile
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If you are interested in pursuing a career as a zoo worker, you should begin by researching the various positions, the education and skill requirements, the job responsibilities, and the salary. Many career seekers dream of working at a zoo but are uncertain whether they have the qualifications and could make a living.

Positions and Salaries

Veterinarian

Maintaining the health of animals and providing emergency care is critical when an animal is sick or injured. Routine duties of a veterinarian include performing surgeries, assisting with difficult births, cleaning teeth, taking x-rays and ultrasounds, suturing wounds, and evaluating animals that have shown significant behavioral or physiological changes.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians earned an average yearly salary of $90,420 in 2017. Board-certified specialists in zoological medicine can expect to earn much higher salaries due to the advanced education required. According to the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), in 2017, there were 197 board-certified specialists in zoological medicine.

Veterinary Technician

This individual is tasked with assisting zoo veterinarians with treatments and procedures. Routine duties of a zoo veterinary technician include preparing surgical sites, assisting with surgeries, changing bandages, taking samples, running lab tests, and giving injections.

Specialty certification in the field is available to those with at least 10,000 hours or five years of documented experience in zoo medicine. Zoo veterinarian technicians can expect to earn between $35,000 and $45,000 per year, which is on the top end of the general veterinary technician compensation range.

Zookeeper

Duties may include feeding, assisting with veterinary care, monitoring behavior, cleaning animal enclosures, giving medications, assisting with demonstrations, and answering questions from the general public. Zookeeper positions are not noted for being particularly high paying opportunities, but they are still hard to come by since career seekers are attracted to the hands-on interaction with exotic animals. Most keeper positions pay between $20,000 and $30,000 per year.

Commissary Zoo Keeper

This position prepares animal diets as directed by zoo nutritionists and veterinarians. The commissary zoo keeper takes inventories and order supplies as needed, assist with unloading deliveries, regularly disinfect the kitchen food prep areas, properly store food products, deliver animal rations to keepers or distribute them to the animals directly, and give tours of the kitchen to school groups. Commissary zoo keepers usually earn a salary in the same range as animal keepers, about $25,000 to $30,000 per year.

Commissary managers can earn as much as $70,000 per year.

Education and Development Positions

Zoologist

Conducting research studies, developing captive breeding programs, and analyzing data from the zoo’s collection of animals fall under a zoologist's set of responsibilities. Subspecialties in the field of zoology include mammalogy (mammals), herpetology (reptiles), ichthyology (fish), and ornithology (birds). Zoologists generally earn between $60,000 and $70,000 per year, depending on their level of education and the nature of their work.

Zoo Educator

Responsibilities include giving tours and lectures to zoo visitors are in an effort to promote wildlife conservation. Some presentations may involve handling of live animals, often parrots, turtles, and small mammals. Zoo educators may also be tasked with developing their own original educational materials and assisting with advertising and marketing campaigns. Salaries are approximately $30,000 per year.

Zoo Management and Administration Positions

Zoo Curators

This member of management oversee keepers, veterinarians, and other members of the support staff as they provide care for the animals under their supervision. Zoo curators are involved with all daily decisions, developing research projects, and acquiring new animals for exhibits and breeding programs.

Zoo curators may specialize further as curator of a specific group of animals, such as reptiles or hoofstock; exhibits; education; conservation; research; or as the general curator, supervising all other specialty curators. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, zoo curators earned a median annual salary of $46,452 per year in 2017. The highest 10 percent of curators reportedly earned more than $85,000 per year.

Zoo Registrar

This position involves detailed record keeping for each animal in the zoo’s collection and completing the paperwork necessary by law to keep and transport zoo animals. Zoo registrars work closely with keepers and curators to maintain a comprehensive log of each animal’s behavior, veterinary history, pedigree, and dietary needs. Zoo registrar salaries can vary from $30,000 to $50,000 per year based on the individual’s level of experience and the funding available to each zoo.

Zoo positions come with a specific set of requirements and responsibilities. Research these jobs and what they entail to determine if your skills, education, and work background make you a suitable candidate. If you are a student, courses geared to one of these positions can land you an internship and some valuable experience. If you are interested in a career change, you may need to take additional courses to meet the requirements of the position.

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