Becoming a zookeeper began for me with getting into the “Keeper Pool”. If you’re envisioning an aquatics centre with lots of zookeepers swimming around in their bathers, please stop. While not a job position in itself, this “pool” was a small group of people (typically around 20) that had been evaluated and selected as potential new keepers. Short term contracts (or at the time, volunteering options) were offered to members of this group only. These sorts of openings can be advertised every 2 years or every 3 months depending on the need of the organisation (however it probably occurs once a year on average). This was the first step.
I believe over 600 people applied online in my intake. So, how to get your resume to stand out amongst the masses? It typically comes down to two things- academic qualifications and experience. Like I said, there is no “one pathway”, however with such high competition, generally I found those with a relevant qualification (I studied a Bachelor of Animal Science and Management degree at Melbourne University) had an edge over those without.
Next was experience. I appreciate there is often a catch 22 here; you need experience to get the job, but you can’t get the experience unless you get the job… conundrum. This is a big part of why this career is so hard, and it boils down to one word… volunteering. Luckily I was young and without too much financial pressure, so I could “afford” to volunteer my time. I volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary park, a dog/cat shelter, and even a donkey shelter! I took annual leave from my job and travelled interstate to volunteer at a zoo there for 2 weeks. As I said, it’s hard- not only do you not get paid to volunteer, you often have to spend money in order to do the volunteering!
However sometimes it’s often the only way to get the experience. And fortunately, sometimes volunteering CAN lead to paid work (I worked at the shelter for several years after beginning as a volunteer). You can even work at a zoo in another capacity to try and get your foot in the door (I was a tour guide that drove buses of people around talking about the animals). As I said, this pathway is long and windy; I never knew I’d get a Heavy Rigid truck licence in order to get one step closer to my dream job of zookeeping, but I did what was necessary, and one step closer I did indeed become.
* I am posting in a personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed are my own and do not represent those of the organisation I work for.