If you love animals, you might consider a career in a zoo. You really have to love critters of all kinds if you want to make a living working with them. It can be very hard and sometimes heartbreaking work. Zoo workers cannot expect to earn huge salaries, but the benefits of working with animals can more than make up for a lack of financial rewards.
At one time, you could start at the entry level and work your way up the ranks through on-the-job training and continuing education. These days, although you do not need to be a veterinarian to work with animals, most of the jobs in zoos require some kind of specialized degree. Although practical experience with animals is helpful, most entry-level zookeeper positions require at least a four-year college degree, in addition to animal-handling experience. Specific training in biology, wildlife management, animal science, zoology, marine biology, or animal behavior is preferred. The higher-level positions (such as curator or researcher) typically require advanced academic degrees.
The 163-acre National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., was created by an act of Congress in 1889, and is now part of the Smithsonian Institution. The National Zoo houses more than 2,400 individual animals of 400 different species. Its most famous resident is probably the giant panda Tai Shan, who was born in captivity on July 9, 2005.
A zoo worker's hours are irregular. Zoos are usually open seven days a week. Animals have to be fed at specific times that do not always fall within regular business hours. You will often be called upon to work nights, weekends, and holidays. It is a physical job as well. You can anticipate lots of bending, kneeling, crawling, squatting, and lugging heavy sacks of feed and hay and other supplies.
As with most jobs, salaries for zoo employees vary depending on the location of the institution. Zoos in or near metropolitan areas generally offer higher salaries. On average, an animal keeper's salary ranges from minimum wage to more than $30,000 a year, depending on the keeper's skills and experience.