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A zookeeper (middle) with South American sea lions at the Paris Zoological Park.

A zookeeper, sometimes referred as animal keeper, is a person who manages

public education
, such as conducting tours and answering questions.


Animal collections requiring

wild animal care takers or zookeepers have existed since about 3,000 B.C.[2]

Early civilizations in

Some ancient collections of animals were very large and contained a wide variety of species, although specific details of these collections were not recorded. Many cultures such as the

In the areas known as the New World,

Inca societies also maintained large animal collections. While these were only discovered in the early 16th century, they were much older than that. Montezuma (Mexico City) had the largest known collections. One collection consisted of birds and required some 300 keepers. Another collection consisted of mammals and reptiles requiring another 300 keepers. There were also fresh and salt water fish ponds.[2]

Duties and responsibilities

Zookeepers with a cheetah at Australia Zoo.

A zookeeper's responsibilities usually include feeding, maintaining and cleaning the animals, diet preparation, behavioral observation, record keeping, exhibit maintenance and providing environmental enrichment for the animals in their care.[3] Some also conduct behavioral or reproductive research on a species and participate in public education through talks, programs or shows. They are expected to clean enclosures every day. They look for any signs of injuries or illness in the animals, and in the case of sickness or injury, the keeper is responsible for contacting a veterinarian, and sometimes a zookeeper will assist a veterinarian.

Some zookeepers train the animals to make caring for them easier. For example, a zookeeper can train an elephant to lift their feet so that a veterinarian can check them more easily.[4] Some zookeepers are responsible for informing an audience, in an exhibit or presentation, about certain types of animals and their behavioral characteristics. They also talk about experiences with the animal, and answer questions. The keeper is also responsible for lecturing the visiting public on how to behave responsibly toward the exhibited animals.

Depending on the zoo structure, keepers may be assigned to work with a broad group of animals, such as mammals, birds, or reptiles, or they may work with a limited collection of animals such as primates, large cats, or small mammals. Traditionally, the live exhibits were often organized by taxonomy, resulting in clusters of carnivores cages, bird aviaries, primate exhibits, and so on, which led to sections within a zoo cared for by specialized staff.[5] Some keepers can become highly specialized such as those who concentrate on a specific group of animals like birds, great apes, elephants or reptiles.

Modern habitat exhibits attempt to display a diversity of species of different animal classes within one enclosure to represent ecosystem concepts. Groups of enclosures are organized by themes, relating to, for example, zoogeography and bioclimatic zones, rather than taxonomy. The shift in exhibit arrangements is changing the scope of work for animal keepers, as they become habitat keepers, with a necessary working knowledge of living environment care, including landscape maintenance, plant care, climate control, and expanded knowledge of animals husbandry for many more species across taxonomic classes.[5]

Educational requirements

The educational requirements for an entry level zoo keeper vary.

In the USA they are often required to have completed a

licensed. This license will only be given if they can prove sufficient knowledge and practical abilities (evidence of competence). Of course in the vast array of zoos in the world, some of them are still privately owned amateur
facilities with a lack of well-trained personnel.

In contrast, some zoos in Australia have a strong reliance on dedicated part-time volunteer workers, who assist zookeepers in the simpler tasks such as preparation of foods and medicines, and cleaning of animal enclosures.

Internships and volunteer work

In the USA, in addition to good academic preparation, most zoos prefer to hire people for zookeeping positions who have prior animal-handling experience. There are a wide variety of internships that aspiring zoo keepers can take both during and after college. Many of these internships can be found by going to a local zoo or aquarium.[6] Other internships can be found in an animal-related facility, including vet hospitals, humane society shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers, farms and stables. Internships are an opportunity for individuals who are considering a career in animal welfare to learn more about companion animals and their behaviors.

Occupational hazards

There are several occupational hazards associated with zookeepers including allergens, zoonoses, bite injuries, slips, trips, and falls, chemicals, stress, and noise.[7][8][9][10] These exposures have been associated with increased rates of alergic diseases, skin infections, bite-related infections, intestinal diseases, tuberculosis and psychological stress.[11] The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians publishes guidelines to identify and control risks associated with contact with animals in public settings.[11]

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e Kisling, Vernon N. Jr. History of the Zoo Keeper Profession. Archived July 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Zoo Keeper." Jobs4u Careers Database. 12 Jun. 2009.
  3. ^ Crosby, Olivia. "Wild jobs with wild life." Occupational Outlook Quarterly Spring 45 (2001): 1-15.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "So You Want To Be A Zookeeper." St. Louis Zoo. 18 May 2009.
  6. PMC 7151882
  7. ^ Managing health and safety in zoos (PDF). Health and Safety Executive. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 8, 2012.
  8. PMID 35175930
  9. ^ Drudi, Dino (2000-10-10). "Are animals occupational hazards?" (PDF). US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-11-08. Retrieved 2023-02-02.
  10. ^ a b "NASPHV Animal Contact Compendium". www.nasphv.org. Retrieved 2023-02-07.

External links