Working at a zoo is both rewarding and challenging. When
people think of zoo careers they often first think of
working with animals. A zoo is like a small city, however,
with a variety of tasks and responsibilities that require
an enormous range of skill sets. Here you'll find an
introduction to the many possible career paths that could
bring you to a zoo along with some additional resources for
Middle and High School teachers can sign up for our
school group workshop:
Types of Jobs in Zoos and Aquariums
With more than a hundred million people visiting AZA institutions
annually, all zoo and aquarium employees have the opportunity to
educate the public about the critical need for the conservation
of wildlife and wild lands. This responsibility assures an
interesting and rewarding career, but the profession requires
more than a commitment to conservation - it requires hard work.
Zoo and aquarium employment is not always glamorous. Much of the
work requires physical strength, as well as the ability to make
detailed observations and keep information up-to-date.
It takes a special kind of dedication to provide care to captive
animals that require attention 24 hours a day, seven days a week,
come snow, rain, or shine.
The conservation and scientific programs in zoos and aquariums
have become highly technical and specialized. Although practical
experience with animals may sometimes be substituted for academic
training, most entry-level keeper positions now require a
four-year college degree. Training in animal science, zoology,
marine biology, conservation biology, wildlife management, and
animal behavior is preferred. Curatorial, research, and
conservation positions typically require advanced academic degrees.
Students wishing to pursue animal-related careers are
encouraged to carefully review the curriculum of the schools they
wish to attend, as some programs focus more on a zoological
application than others. Students who are interested in the
business side of zoo and aquarium operations should concentrate
on skills related to a particular area of expertise, such as
accounting, public relations, marketing, personnel management,
etc. Whatever your career goal, guidance counselors can offer
assistance in determining the most appropriate course of study.
Salaries for zoo and aquarium employees vary depending on the
institution and its location. Institutions located in metropolitan
areas generally offer higher salaries. An animal keeper's salary
can range from minimum wage to more than $30,000 a year, depending
on skills and tenure. Salaries for other employees usually compare
favorably with those prevailing in that region.
Listed below are some positions in zoos and aquariums and a brief
description of duties. Not all positions are found in all facilities,
and responsibilities often vary.
- Director/Chief Operating Officer - Executes policies
as directed by the governing authority. Responsible for the
institution's operation and plans for future development.
- Assistant Director - Assists the director and assumes
charge in the director's absence.
- Finance Manager/Director - Manages the institution's
finances, including payment of bills, purchasing, investments, and the
preparation of financial statements.
- General Curator - Oversees an institution's entire
animal collection and animal management staff. Responsible for strategic
- Animal Curator - Manages a certain portion of an
institution's animal collection; i.e., mammals, birds, fish,
- Veterinarian - Responsible for the healthcare
program for the animal collection and the maintenance of health
- Veterinary Technician - Assists the veterinarian
and provides care to the animals under the supervision of the
- Registrar - Maintains computer records on the animal
collection and applies for permits and licenses to hold or transport
- Curator/Coordinator/Director of Research - Supervises
research projects, serves as liaison between the institution and the
academic community, and publishes articles in scientific journals.
- Curator/Coordinator/Director of Conservation - Oversees
the institution's conservation activities, including field projects.
Serves as liaison with government wildlife agencies and other
- Conservation Biologist/Zoologist - Provides scientific
and technical assistance in the management of the animal collection and
assists in conducting various research or field conservation projects.
- Head Keeper/Aquarist - Supervises a section or department
of the institution; provides training and scheduling for keepers.
- Senior Keeper/Aquarist - Provides primary animal care
for a department.
- Keeper/Aquarist - Provides daily care to the
institution's animals, including diet preparation, cleaning,
general exhibit maintenance, and record keeping.
- Operations Director/Manager - Responsible for the
daily operation of the institution's physical plant and equipment.
- Curator of Exhibits - Creates exhibits and assists in
the design of graphics.
- Curator of Horticulture - Responsible for the botanical
collection and its application to the animal collection, as well as
daily maintenance of the institution's grounds.
- Curator of Education - Plans and implements the
institution's education programs.
- Public Relations/Affairs Manager/Director - Promotes
the institution, its mission, and its programs to the public via the
- Development Director/Officer - Develops and manages
fund-raising activities which can include writing grant proposals
and attracting corporate sponsors, as well as soliciting private donations.
- Marketing Director/Manager - Creates advertising campaigns
and other activities to increase public awareness of the institution.
- Special Events Manager/Coordinator - Develops and implements
events to attract visitors throughout the year.
- Membership Director/Manager - Responsible for maintaining
and increasing institution memberships for families and individuals and
designing special events for members only. May also be in charge of
"adopt-an-animal" programs to raise funds.
- Gift Shop Manager - Manages staff and all aspects of gift
shop operation from buying products to designing shops.
- Visitor Services Manager - Supervises the staff and
facilities that cater to the visiting public including concessions
- Personnel Manager/Director - Responsible for all
personnel matters including payroll, insurance, and tax matters.
- Volunteer Coordinator - Responsible for recruiting and
maintaining a staff of volunteers/docents. Duties include scheduling
docents for on- and off-grounds activities and keeping docents
abreast of new developments to relate to the public.
- Docent/Volunteer - Duties may include diet preparation,
small animal care, teaching educational programs, leading group tours,
and staffing special events.
- Junior Keeper - Some institutions offer a
summer program for high school students who wish to volunteer
in a zoo or aquarium setting. Duties are often similar to those
of other volunteers, but they are supervised much more closely.
The above information is provided by the Association of Zoos
and Aquariums. More information can be found online at