How to become a zookeeper

What does a zookeeper do?

Zookeepers are responsible for the care, management and welfare of animals in zoos, safari parks and specialised collections.

The daily care of animals involves cleaning out pens and cages, providing fresh bedding and water, preparing food and feeding animals. Keepers look out for signs of disease or injury, keep health records and assist vets when treatment is necessary.

Zookeepers work under the supervision of a head keeper or curator, and often work with a particular species of animal or in a specific area of the zoo.

To ensure the safety of visitors to the zoo, keepers regularly check fences and barriers for signs of wear or damage. They also answer visitors’ questions about the zoo and collection and may give talks or lectures.

Some zookeepers are involved in conservation or breeding programmes, and in transferring animals to other zoos for breeding.

What's the working environment like for a zookeeper?

Zookeepers work a five to six day week. Hours of work are longer in the spring and summer, and there may be a shift system. It is necessary to work weekends and bank holidays. Senior zookeepers may be on a call-out rota.

Zookeepers may work indoors or outside, depending on the type of animals.

A driving licence is essential for work in safari parks.

What does it take to become a Zookeeper?

To be a zookeeper you should:

  • have an interest in animals but not be overly-sentimental
  • be prepared to carry out the mundane and sometimes unpleasant tasks involved in the work
  • have a pleasant manner and good spoken communication skills
  • be observant
  • be physically fit
  • be safety-conscious.

In terms of qualifications, people looking to work as a zookeeper will be required to have five GCSE's grades A* to C which includes English, maths and science. Studies in animal care or animal science may also help your application stand out and in some cases, zoos may ask for higher education such as degrees or foundation degrees. 

You could also enter this profession through an apprenticeship and work your way up. Experience handling and taking care of animals is advantageous. This could be working in a kennel or even a farm. 

Zookeeper career opportunities

Keepers work at zoos, safari/wildlife parks, bird collections and aquariums, run by zoological societies, charitable trusts, local authorities and private businesses. The number of applicants always far exceeds the number of vacancies. Employers often keep waiting lists of suitable applicants.

In larger zoos there are prospects for promotion from keeper to head keeper. Generally promotion prospects are limited in smaller zoos, and finding more responsible work may mean moving to another zoo. Some zookeepers move into related areas of work such as working for the RSPCA, or in kennels or stables.

Those wishing to become curators will need extensive experience and/or a degree.

There may be opportunities to work abroad as some zoos take part in keeper exchange programmes.

Further information

If you would like to learn more about becoming a zookeeper that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Volunteering England

Volunteer Scotland

Association of British Wild Animal Keepers(ABWAK)

British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA)

Sparsholt College
SO21 2NF
Tel: 01962 776441

Lantra House
Stoneleigh Park
Nr Coventry
Tel: 0845 707 8007

Lantra career advice sites:




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