Zookeeper  What They Do

Just the Facts

Nonfarm Animal Caretakers Career Video

Insider Info

dotA zookeeper cares for animals in zoological parks or aquariums. The work of a zookeeper can be as varied as the animals they care for.

"There are two main parts of any zookeeper's job," says David Merritt. He is the curator of marine mammals at a zoo in Indianapolis. "One is feeding, the other is cleaning up. The simplest parts of the job are the most important. Those two functions take up most of the zookeeper's time. But the modern zookeeper does a lot more."

dotMerritt became a zookeeper by accident. "I fell into it," he says. "I always had an interest in animals and had a lot of pets when I was a kid, including some exotics," he says.

"I was working on a farm cooperative and a friend in the field of marine mammals got me involved. At first, I trained dolphins for public presentations. I also was involved in marine mammal strandings for about a 10-year period."

dotModern zookeepers tend to become specialists. There are carnivore keepers, bird experts, primatologists (monkeys and apes) and herpetologists (snakes).

"There is such a wide variety of animals -- from snakes to elephants to dolphins -- that zookeepers will tend to specialize over a career," says Merritt.

dotAs well as the daily cleaning and maintenance of animal enclosures and feeding, keepers help design, build and repair animal enclosures and care for the plants in and around the exhibits.

dotKeepers also work closely with managers on conservation, reproduction and research projects. These provide important information to help protect and preserve rare and endangered species.

dotSome keepers act as public relations officers for their zoos. Working with the public helps educate people about wildlife conservation and animals' natural habitats.

dotDon Adams is manager of operations and the curator of a zoological center. He says being a zookeeper is a lot more complicated today than it used to be.

"You can't just love animals," says Adams. "Zoos today are always looking for good specialists, like in all careers. Whether you're an animal health technician, an aquariast or an aviculturist, zookeepers today need to get more of a formal background, including education."

He says that while working one-on-one with animals is what keepers tend to enjoy the most, a significant part of their job involves talking to the public.

At a Glance

Care for exotic animals

  • Habitat enhancement is a growing trend
  • Some keepers act as public relations officers for their zoos
  • A diploma in animal care or a degree in zoology is important