Zoo & Aquarium Science Careers
What is Zoo and Aquarium Science?
Zoo and Aquarium Science includes all the disciplines needed to properly manage and care for wild animals in captivity, both native wildlife and exotics. Professionals need a good working knowledge of proper nutrition, behavior, record keeping, management and conservation. Keepers and curators may be generalists, caring for all animals in the facility or at larger institutions they may specialize. Specialists can focus on particular animal groups, such as carnivores or marine mammals. Alternatively, they may focus on a particular area of husbandry, such as nutrition or animal behavior. Keepers share a passion for their animals and commitment to their care.
What do these careers entail?
Zoo keepers are the primary caregivers for zoo animals, thus, they need to be careful observers of each animal and exhibit. Proper care includes feeding, cleaning, observing and enriching the animals on a daily basis. In addition, zoo keepers may actively train animals to participate in their own husbandry, for example, cooperating in blood draws or physical exams. Keepers also interact with the public on an ongoing basis. At many zoos and aquariums the keepers are expected to give regular public presentations, "keeper talks", to educate the public and encourage conservation.
Curators are part of the management structure in zoos and aquariums, they are often keepers that have been promoted to positions of greater responsibility. Some curatorial positions are organized around taxonomic groups such as Curator of Carnivores or Curator of Reptiles. Alternatively, they may emphasize functions, such as Curator of Conservation or Curator of Behavior and Enrichment. Regardless of the title, curators spend less time on direct animal care and more time supervising their staff and setting a broader direction for the animals in their care. Curators may also contribute to plans for the collection, suggesting species that may be added to or eventually dropped from the institution.
Education is a core part of the mission of every zoo and is key to promoting conservation. Educators can be involved in many aspects of teaching, from educational presentations at the zoo, to the design of interpretive graphics and signage, to outreach programs and schools and community centers (the "zoo on wheels" many institutions offer). They need to be educators and public speakers but they also need an intimate knowledge of each animal's ecology, behavior and conservation status. Many zoos maintain a separate collection of animals exclusively for use in education; teachers need to be able to comfortably handle these animals - everything from chickens to snakes to raptors.
Students graduating from the Zoo and Aquarium Science program at the Animal Behavior Institute have found positions working as zookeepers, animal trainers, enrichment coordinators, wildlife educators, and animal technicians. Our training, coupled with your own work, internship or volunteer experience, can help prepare you for a career in the field of your dreams.
The outlook for professionals in animal care and service is positive. The field of animal care and service workers, which includes zoo keepers and animal trainers, is expected to grow at 15% over the next decade (source: US Department of Labor). However, competition for positions as zoo keepers or aquarists is expected to remain keen The specialized training offered by ABI can give you the competitive advantage you need to secure a position and advance in this field.
Who hires zoo and aquarium workers? Zoo keepers and aquarists can find work at over 200 AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) zoos and aquariums or more than a thousand other USDA licensed zoos, wildlife parks, marine parks, wildlife centers, museums, and education or conservation facilities. Sample positions include:
- Zoo keepers
- Zoo educators
- Education coordinators
- Conservation coordinators
- Marine mammal keepers
- Animal trainers & coordinators
- Volunteer coordinators
- Carnivore keeper/curators
- Enrichment specialists
- Research biologists
- Elephant keepers
If you have a professional interest in Zoo and Aquarium Science, you may want to explore one or more of these associations for additional information.
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