Zookeeper - About the job
Kaitiaki Rawhi WhakaaturangaAlternative titles
Zookeepers care for animals in zoos, wildlife parks or aquariums.
Zookeepers with one to six years' experience usually earn
$31K-$50K per year
Zookeepers with more than six years' experience usually earn
$45K-$65K per year
Source: Unitec and Auckland Zoo.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
Pay for zookeepers varies depending on experience and qualifications.
- Zookeepers with one to six years' experience usually earn between minimum wage and $50,000 a year.
- Senior zookeepers with more than six years' experience usually earn between $45,000 and $65,000.
- Zoo managers at large zoos and aquariums can earn between $60,000 and $80,000, or more.
Sources: Unitec and Auckland Zoo.
- MoreBusiness website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website - information about minimum pay rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Zookeepers may do some or all of the following:
- clean and inspect animals and their enclosures/habitats
- feed animals and ensure their nutritional and health requirements are met
- observe animal behaviour and provide activities for the animals
- treat animals for minor injuries and illnesses under veterinary supervision
- design and maintain animal environments, including looking after the grounds, caring for plants in animal habitats and repairing animal homes
- assist the public, answer their questions and give educational talks
- maintain records and carry out any general office work relating to animal care.
Skills and knowledge
Zookeepers need to have:
- knowledge of animal biology and the scientific classification of animals
- skill in caring for and handling animals
- an understanding of laws relevant to their work, such as the Animal Welfare Act.
- usually work regular hours (including weekends) but may work overtime or be on call
- work at zoos, wildlife parks, aquariums and nature reserves
- often work in smelly and noisy conditions, with animals that can be dangerous
- may travel locally and internationally on conservation programs.
What's the job really like?
What people don't realise about zookeepers
"People think zookeeping is all cuddling cute animals but what they don't realise is that it's a lot of really, really hard work. Cleaning is a big part of your day when you are zookeeping – but the physical side of things is really enjoyable if you get stuck into it."
Opportunities to learn new things
"The great thing about being a zookeeper is the variety you get in your job. Now I'm more senior, I'm more involved in population management – managing very small populations to maintain genetic diversity within those populations.
"You can go from population management to visiting conservation projects around the world. I was actually lucky enough to go to India and Nepal last year with the red panda transfer."
Working with the public
"One of the highlights of my job is being able to interact with the public and connect them with the animals that we have here, especially when they are asking questions about different individuals."
- Spending time with animals while feeding them.
- Interacting with the public.
- The variety of work.
- Working outside in all weather conditions.
- Heavy physical work.
- A lot of cleaning.
There are no specific requirements for becoming a zookeeper as skills are learned on the job. However, employers usually prefer people who have at least one of the following:
- Certificate in Animal Management (Captive Wild Animals) from Unitec through distance learning
- Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare) from Unitec
- any other degree or qualification in animal behaviour, animal welfare and zoo animal management
- work or volunteer experience with animals, particularly wild animals, or other conservation activities.
- Unitec website - Certificate in Animal Management (Captive Wild Animals)
- Unitec website - Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare)
A broad range of secondary subjects is useful, including biology and other science subjects.
To enter the Unitec Certificate in Animal Management (Captive Wild Animals), you need a minimum of 24 credits at NCEA Level 1 in English and science, or equivalent.
To do a degree in animal management you need a tertiary entrance qualification.
Zookeepers need to be:
- decisive and able to remain calm in emergencies
- able to work well as part of a team
- good communicators, with sound presentation and public speaking skills.
Useful experience for zookeepers includes:
- work (paid or voluntary) at a zoo or wildlife park
- work (paid or voluntary) for the Department of Conservation
- any other work that shows you are committed to animals and the environment – such as cleaning litter from beaches.
Some zoos offer:
- work experience for secondary school students
- programmes where people spend regular time volunteering over a year
- unpaid internships to help people build up their experience before applying for paid work in a zoo.
- Auckland Zoo website - information on unpaid zoo internships
- Wellington Zoo website - information on volunteer programmes
- Australasian Zookeeping website - links to zoos and wildlife parks in New Zealand
Zookeepers need to be reasonably fit and healthy.
Find out more about training
- Zoo and Aquarium Association, New Zealand Branch
- (09) 360 3807 - email@example.com - www.zooaquarium.org.au/
What are the chances of getting a job?
Zookeeping is a small occupation with low growth due to zoos rarely expanding and few new zoos opening.
Volunteering improves your chances of getting a zookeeper job
Due to the popularity of the job, zookeeper vacancies attract a high number of applicants.
You can increase your chances of getting a permanent zookeeper position if you:
- are prepared to spend some time doing volunteer or casual work
- have previously volunteered at a zoo or worked with animals, particularly in the wild (for instance with the Department of Conservation)
- have relevant qualifications
- have a background in conservation activities.
Types of employers varied
Zookeepers are employed by:
- wildlife parks and sanctuaries.
In New Zealand, most zoos are owned by charitable trusts or local authorities such as city councils.
- Auckland Zoo website, accessed September 2015, (www.aucklandzoo.co.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Roberts, L, curriculum leader, Unitec, Careers New Zealand interview, September 2015.
- Unitec website, accessed September 2015, (www.unitec.ac.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Zookeepers may progress to become zoo managers.
Zookeepers may specialise in caring for certain species of animals, such as reptiles or apes, or in running an aquarium.
Last updated 28 January 2016