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Zoo Attendant


Description

When we think of zoos, we usually think of cages. But not all zoos keep their animals locked up--most zoos have established large enclosed habitats reflective of the animals' natural home, while others are even known as game farms, where animals are free to wander over acres of land, while people travel through, looking for glimpses of the residents. Some zoos are actually rehabilitation centers, where abused or injured animals come to recuperate. Some take in animals who have been abused on farms, while other centers rescue animals who have been traumatized by circus life.

Whether the animals are kept in an aquarium, a fenced-in compound, or an aviary, they are maintained by zoo attendants, who generally work in one section of the zoo, like the African Pavilion or the Marine Mammal center, where they feed, clean up after, and monitor the health of the many animals within their area.

Zoo attendants also assist in designing and building habitats, repairing existing enclosures, and caring for the plants in and around the exhibits in their area of species specialization. Zoo attendants often work closely with zoo directors on conservation, reproduction and research projects, helping in gathering information to help protect and preserve rare and endangered species.

Alongside working with animals, zoo attendants sometimes give presentations to the public. They may give a talk while feeding the lions, or explain the importance of breeding endangered pandas at a panda bear exhibit. They educate people about wildlife conservation and animals' natural habitats, in the hopes people will leave with a new respect for the animals in our global community.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Zoo attendants need to enjoy working with animals as well as people. They need good communication skills, and should be organized, dedicated, and patient. They should be interested in animals and environmental conservation, and should be motivated to assist animals who have been mistreated or injured. Zoo attendants must be very responsible, kind, and willing to get dirty and messy for the good of the animals. They should be fit, strong, and have a lot of stamina, especially if they want to work with large animals.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Clean and inspect the animals and their enclosures and/or habitats
  • Monitor the well-being of animals
  • Assist in behavioral enrichment programs
  • Feed the animals
  • May treat the animals for minor injuries and illnesses
  • May observe and record animal behavior
  • Design of new habitats for animals
  • Look after the grounds, care for plants in animal habitats and repair animal homes
  • Transport animals
  • Present information to the public
  • Clean up animal habitats
  • Bathe and groom animals as necessary
  • The typical day for a zoo attendant involves checking on the animals, ensuring sure they're all alive and well. Some of the day is spent feeding and cleaning, as well as keeping records, writing reports, giving public talks, attending meetings or working on special projects to work on. Zoo attendants do not do much traveling, unless to study zookeeping practices at other zoos and game parks, but they do spend much of each day outdoors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Zoo attendants work with large and small zoos, marine parks, animal rehabilitation centers, game farms, and wildlife parks. They look after the animals in small dark spaces (like bat caves) or wide open spaces (when working with animals like lions or giraffes). They work all year long with the animals, often for shifts or on call on weekends, holidays, and the middle of the night. They work in severe heat, snow, and driving rain. They work with an assistant, or may work alone.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Zoo attendants can work their way up to the zoo director or curator, and make all the major zoo decisions. Some may leave zookeeping, and work as veterinary technicians or train to work as vets or conservation and wildlife officers. Some may decide to get into research and conservation, and study the future of animal health and populations. Some may want to work as animal trainers or groomers, while others may want to write about their experiences at the zoo.
 

  Educational Paths  
Zoo attendants need some education. Many study animal health or veterinary technology, while others study agriculture, zoology, veterinary science, or biology. Some zoos take on apprentices; make sure you check around for that option as well. People interested in this career should consider working with animals as a volunteer with a Humane Society or other animal and conservation organizations.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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