Animal Training

Zoo Careers

Animal Training

Animal Training Department

  1. Animal trainers have one of the most visible jobs within a zoological park - the one most people ask about, and one of the most difficult to get. There are a very limited number of openings in this field. Background experience helpful for a position in this department would include courses or knowledge in zoology, behavioral and experimental psychology, animal behavior, public speaking, communications, education, and theater.

    Good health and strong athletic fitness are mandatory. Expect to undergo a rigorous swim test when applying for an animal training position at an aquatic park. In addition, the ability to communicate with the public in a positive manner and plenty of patience are required of anyone who would like to become a trainer. Because they announce and narrate at the shows in which the animals perform, confident public speaking skills are essential for animal trainers.

    Due to the specialized nature of the work, an on-the-job apprenticeship is necessary. Even if an individual has had previous experience training animals, he or she must go through a period of time during which he or she becomes familiar with the individual animals' personalities and training methods used before he or she interacts directly with them.

Positions

  1. CURATOR OF ANIMAL TRAINING
    • Main job duties:
      • In addition to creating and implementing the direction and goals of the department, the curator oversees the daily operation of the animal training staff and animal collection. Successful interaction and communication with other departments and curators are essential components of this position. The curator also assists with the concept, development, and design of new animal exhibits and show areas.
    • Education:
      • Bachelor's degree or equivalent preferred in biological sciences or psychology; in some cases, scuba certification
    • Initial training:
      • Ten years experience, seven of which are at a managerial level, are required.
    • Works closely with:
      • Supervisor of Animal Training, other animal services departments, Entertainment department, Education department, Design and Engineering department, and veterinary staff
    • Challenges:
      • The Curator of Animal Training must always keep a broad perspective of the department to ensure its successful direction and goal achievement. In addition, the needs of the animals must be balanced with the public's demand for viewing and learning about the animals. Animal training is one of the more visible disciplines in a zoological park, and needs to be led with experience, consistency, and extensive practical knowledge.
  2. SUPERVISOR OF ANIMAL TRAINING
    • Main job duties:
      • The Supervisor of Animal Training is responsible for the staff's conditioning and maintainance of animals at a show quality level. They must ensure a safe environment for animals, fellow employees, and park guests. Each supervisor oversees an entire show area including animal facilities, show production criteria, professional staff appearance, and on- and off-stage performance. As a supervisor, this individual is responsible for implementing the goals and objectives developed by the curators. He or she is responsible for developing new show behaviors and concepts, training plans, behavioral enrichment programs, and husbandry methods.
    • Education:
      • Bachelor's degree or equivalent preferred in biological sciences or psychology; in some cases, scuba certification
    • Initial training:
      • At least two years as a Senior Animal Trainer
    • Works closely with:
      • Curator of Animal Training, Animal Care Specialists, Training department staff, veterinary staff, Education department, Public Relations department, and Entertainment department
    • Challenges:
      • In addition to maintaining the animals, the supervisor must always have an acute awareness of the animal training staff, including their professional backgrounds, capabilities, limits, and knowledge levels. This awareness is essential to ensuring consistency and quality control in every aspect of animal training.
  3. ANIMAL TRAINER
    • Main job duties:
      • Animal Trainers condition and maintain animal behaviors, and perform in shows for both private and education groups. Trainers maintain a healthy environment for show animals by cleaning holding and performance areas, preparing food, documenting health, diet, and behavior records, and assisting with the transport of animals whenever necessary. There are usually several different position levels, including Apprentice Trainer, Associate Trainer, and Senior Trainer, which are progressively achieved through experience and development.
    • Education:
      • Associate's or Bachelor's degree preferred in psychology, biological sciences, or drama; in some cases, scuba certification
    • Initial training:
      • Experience handling or working closely with animals; some public speaking experience
    • Works closely with:
      • Animal Training Supervisors, Animal Care Specialists, veterinary staff, Education department, Public Relations department, and Entertainment department
    • Challenges:
      • It is crucial that Animal Trainers maintain a high level of physical fitness to safely perform their range of duties. Patience is also required - gaining the trust of new animals and shaping show behaviors require months of hard work, consistency, and commitment. Regardless of cold, rainy, snowy, windy, or hot conditions, Trainers must feed the animals in their care and clean their exhibits.

Profile

Julie Scardina

Curator of Animal Training
SeaWorld of California
SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Animal Ambassador

What do you like most about your job?
Getting to know animals on a level that you can communicate with them, that you can "read" them.

What was the most unexpected part of your job?
The intense commitment involved - it's not just a job, it's a way of life.

What was your first job?
I was a summer camp counselor.

What are some of the things you learned in school that you use now?
Math (to figure percentages of food to be fed at different times), English and writing skills, and physical education...learning the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet.