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Zookeeper

Kaitiaki Rawhi Whakaaturanga

Alternative titles for this job

Zookeepers care for animals in zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums.

Pay

Zookeepers with one to six years' experience usually earn

$37K-$50K per year

Zookeepers with more than six years' experience usually earn

$50K-$80K per year

Source: careers.govt.nz research, 2018.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a zookeeper are poor due to high competition for a limited number of jobs.

Pay

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 $50,000 and $65,000.
  • Zoo managers at large zoos and aquariums can earn between $65,000 and $80,000.

Source: careers.govt.nz research, 2018.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Zookeepers may do some or all of the following:

  • clean, feed and inspect animals
  • clean animal enclosures and the wider environment
  • control pests
  • observe and record animal behaviour
  • provide activities for the animals
  • support animal breeding programmes
  • treat animals for minor injuries and illnesses under veterinary supervision
  • design and maintain animal environments
  • assist the public, answer their questions and give educational talks
  • contribute to animal research and conservation
  • keep up-to-date on animal welfare, latest animal research and conservation information
  • 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 animal husbandry (how to care for animals)
  • skill in caring for and handling animals
  • an understanding of laws relevant to their work, such as the Animal Welfare Act.

Working conditions

Zookeepers:

  • usually start work early and may work overtime or be on call
  • may work weekends
  • 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?

Harmony Neale and Lil Fluffkins

Harmony Neale

Zookeeper

More than just cuddling animals 

“A lot of people think it’s just cuddling animals, but zookeepers do more than that. We do a lot of cleaning, feeding and observing the animals. We make a lot of enrichment activities for the primates, like hiding food in boxes and freezing porridge in pine cones.” says Harmony Neale. "No day is ever the same."

Encouraging people’s passion for animals

“I enjoy interacting with visitors at things like the Chimp Talks and animal encounters. I like to talk about the animals, how they live and the importance of conservation. I like to share my passion for animals with people.”

Continuing education important

“As a zookeeper I’m continually upskilling and reading to stay on top of the latest research around animal welfare and conservation. At Wellington Zoo there are also opportunities to do field work overseas to research our animals in their natural environment.”

Entry requirements

To become a zookeeper you need to have work experience caring for animals, for example, volunteer work at animal shelters, vets or zoos, or work on a farm.

Zookeepers train on the job and can complete the New Zealand Certificate in Animal Management (Captive Wild Animals) (Level 4) from Unitec by distance learning while working.

Preference may be given to people who already hold an animal-related qualification, such as:

  • New Zealand Certificate in Animal Management (Captive Wild Animals) (Level 4) from Unitec
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare) from Unitec
  • Bachelor of Veterinary Science from Massey University
  • animal related qualifications, such as Bachelor of Science (BSc) or New Zealand Diploma in Veterinary Nursing.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a zookeeper. However, biology and physical education are useful.

Personal requirements

Zookeepers need to be:

  • empathetic, patient and concerned about animals
  • able to handle stressful emergency situations
  • good at presenting information and speaking in public
  • practical
  • organised.

You need to have a real passion for animals, and want to share that passion to educate people about animals and their world.

Photo: Harmony Neale

Harmony Neale

Zookeeper

Useful experience

Useful experience for zookeepers includes:

  • work at a zoo or wildlife park
  • work or work experience for the Department of Conservation
  • veterinary or vet nursing work
  • work with animals or the environment.

Physical requirements

Zookeepers need to be reasonably fit, healthy and strong.

Find out more about training

Zoo and Aquarium Association
0800 453 155 - admin@zooaquarium.org.nz - www.zooaquarium.org.au
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

High competition for limited zookeeper roles

Zookeeper jobs are popular, so competition for any vacancies is high. Vacancies don't come up very often as there aren't many zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums.

According to the Zoo Aquarium Association, there are around 780 zoo and aquarium workers in New Zealand.

Work experience at zoos improves job chances

Most zoos run volunteer or work experience programmes. Your chances of finding paid work are better if you have volunteered first.

Types of employers varied

Zookeepers are employed by:

  • zoos
  • aquariums
  • wildlife parks and sanctuaries.

Sources

  • Auckland Zoo website, accessed August 2018, (www.aucklandzoo.co.nz).
  • Neal, H, head keeper primates, Wellington Zoo, careers.govt.nz interview, August 2018.
  • Unitec website, accessed August 2018, (www.unitec.ac.nz).
  • Wellington Zoo website, accessed August 2018, (www.wellingtonzoo.com).
  • Zoo Aquarium Association, 'Study Shows Wide-Ranging Contributions of Australian and New Zealand Zoos', 24 August 2017, (www.zooaquarium.org.au).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Zookeepers may progress to become head keepers or move into zoo management roles.

Zookeepers may specialise in caring for certain species of animals such as primates.

Harmony Neale has a squirrel monkey on her shoulder

Zookeepers need to have a passion for animals (Photo: Wellington Zoo)

Last updated 1 April 2019