|Zoo Keeping as a Career
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"Zoo keeper" is a term used to describe an individual who cares for animals in zoological parks or aquariums. A career as a zoo keeper offers a unique opportunity in the specialised and demanding profession of maintaining captive exotic animals for conservation, research, public education and recreation.
Zoo keepers care for a diverse collection of animals from mammals and birds to reptiles and amphibians to fish and invertebrates. Many keepers become highly specialised, such as those who work in animal hospitals or who concentrate on a specific group of animals such as exotic birds, great apes, elephants or reptiles. Some of these keepers develop reputations that are recognised internationally.
Important basic duties of zoo keepers include daily cleaning and maintenance of animal enclosures and proper feeding of the animals under their care. Zoo keepers may help design, build and repair animal enclosures and care for the plants in and around the exhibits. Keepers must also be excellent observers, learning habits and behaviours of both individual animals and groups. Professional zoo keepers must be able to detect subtle changes in an animal's physical or psychological condition and then react accordingly. These responsibilities should not be underestimated since they are essential in maintaining a healthy and reproductively successful animal collection.
In addition, zoo keepers will work closely with zoo managers on conservation, reproductive husbandry and research projects. This research will provide zoos with important information to help preserve rare and endangered species and learn more about species which may become threatened in the future.
Keepers will also be expected to provide enrichment for the animals in their charge and to act as first line in public education. Keepers serve as the first line of public relations for their institutions. Interactions with visitors help to increase the public's awareness of the important role of zoos in wildlife conservation. Keepers should be knowledgeable about the animals in their zoo, the animals' natural habitat and habits, and zoos in general. When interacting with the public they should present a smart appearance and be friendly and professional when answering questions, on these occasions it is also important to exercise tact and patience.
The educational requirements for an entry level zoo keeper varies and there are specialist courses on Animal Management and Zoology available at colleges and universities.
Zoo keeping can be a demanding job requiring dedication, commitment and patience. Keepers must be prepared to work weekends, holidays, summer or winter when the ground is frozen and the enclosures are full of snow. Keepers should be reliable people who are willing to learn and improve their performance in a co-operative setting. Concern for their animals is essential since the animal's lives depend largely on how the keepers view their jobs. They must always remember that their first priority is the health and welfare of their animals. With such professional attitudes, keepers develop a sense of pride in their work and in their accomplishments and contributions.
Animal keepers must be physically able to perform the required work and be in a general state of good health. A person who is interested in zoo work should be aware of the risk of animal inflicted injury or disease. For these reasons, direct contact with animals is minimised and strictly managed.
Wages are often relatively low considering the training and education which is usually required, however the job is very rewarding emotionally and when an animal shows it can trust you, you get such a feeling inside that there is no job in the world that can equal it. Zoo keeper jobs are at a premium and some applicants may become frustrated over the initial difficulty in entering the animal care profession. The future for careers in zoo work continues to expand and is promising for both men and women.