Man feeding a black and white primate

Starting a Zoological Career

Catch 22?

To get a job working with animals, you need experience with animals. This bit of truth seems to create a frustrating circle. You need experience to get a job, but you can't get experience unless you have a job, right? Well, yes and no.


To begin a career caring for animals, you should be prepared to start with a volunteer or entry-level position. Call your nearest zoo or aquatic park and ask for details on becoming a volunteer (also called a docent or intern). Humane societies, animal rehabilitation clinics, and some veterinary clinics also welcome volunteers. Although your duties with a humane society or veterinary clinic will most likely involve working indirectly with animals (cleaning cages and preparing food), volunteer duties at a zoo or aquatic park range from filing or answering phones to being trained to make educational presentations or feed newly hatched birds.

Volunteering your time shows that you're serious about your commitment to animals. Develop a reputation for being an eager, cooperative, hard-working person, and your volunteer effort may help you get a job in the future. Supervisors are often asked to give character references for volunteers who've worked for them.

Setting Yourself Up For Success

A strong background in zoology is necessary for most of the jobs that involve working closely with animals. Ask your school counselor to help you work out a course list that will prepare you to earn a degree in zoology, biology, chemistry, botany, or psychology. Take your classes seriously; zoological parks are more interested in hiring a hard-working, knowledgeable person than someone who "loves animals."

Don't wait until you have a degree before you apply for a job at a zoological park. Some of the curators, supervisors, aquarists, and others got their start by working at snack stands and gift shops before moving into their present careers. An entry-level position will help you establish a name for yourself as a dedicated employee, and introduces you to how hiring is handled within that zoological institution.

Lastly, many of the professional organizations listed in the Appendix have special membership rates for nonprofessionals and students. You'll be able to learn more about animals and zoological careers through their newsletters. Also, by attending local workshops and even national conferences, you might make some good contacts and get more information on how to chart your path for your zoological park career.