Find a course
Knowledge Hub » Animal Care » A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Being a zookeeper is a dream career for many people who love and hope to work with animals. Zookeepers tend to specialise in the care of animals who are kept in captivity either for conservation reasons or to be displayed to the general public. Zookeepers serve a vital role in protecting vulnerable animals and are usually responsible for their feeding and daily care.

But what does the daily life of a zookeeper look like? Zookeepers play a vital role in conservation and education and their animal knowledge base and understanding is considerable. From feeding routines to habitat maintenance, here is everything you need to know about the daily responsibilities and challenges faced by zookeepers.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Introduction to the Role of a Zookeeper

There are plenty of opportunities to work as a zookeeper in the UK and a wide range of opportunities available. In Britain, there are around 350 zoos, safari parks, bird gardens and aquaria open to the public. These facilities employ approximately 3,000 people in full-time positions.

Zookeepers play an important role in animal care, conservation and education. Zookeepers are responsible for maintaining the health, safety and welfare of different types of animals. Although zookeepers can work with a wide range of different types of animals they generally specialise their knowledge and training to work with a particular type of animal. They may be an insect specialist, for example, or choose to work with primates.

Zookeepers tend to come from diverse backgrounds and bring a wide range of skills to their roles. Because they work with just one type of animal on a day-to-day basis, they will get to know the animals in their care well, enabling them to spot any signs of diseases, stress, or injury. Zookeepers need a wide range of skills to be successful in their role. They should have patience and empathy when caring for the animals, remain calm and confident when interacting with animals, and because zookeeping is such a physically demanding job zookeepers will also need a high fitness level.

Because animals are so unpredictable, the life of a zookeeper can be diverse and full of surprises. But here is an idea of what an average day in the life of a zookeeper might look like:

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Morning Routines: Preparing for the Day Ahead

The day of a zookeeper will typically start early. Zookeepers need to be at work in time to prepare for the day ahead and to ensure they have the tools they need to provide the best possible standard of care to their animals. When they arrive at the zoo a zookeeper will often need to attend a team briefing to ensure they are kept up to date with the needs of the animals in their care and anything they need to know about other animals within the zoo. Issues that might be raised in the morning team meeting include if an animal is pregnant or if an exhibit area is to be updated. Some meetings may include an update from the zoo vets who will discuss the general health and wellbeing of the animals.

Once the meeting is complete, the zookeeper will carry out essential daily tasks such as checking schedules, reviewing health reports, and ensuring equipment readiness. All of this takes place before the zookeeper even comes into contact with the animals in their care. It is a common misconception that zookeepers spend their days cuddling cute animals when in reality the role is much more intensive and complicated than that. A zookeeper must be committed and dedicated to their role from the outset.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Feeding Time: Ensuring a Balanced Diet for the Animals

After their daily administrative tasks are complete, the first job most zookeepers will undertake is to feed the animals in their care. Maintaining proper nutrition is essential for the health and well-being of the animals. According to Wild Welfare, poor provision of food can cause an animal to experience compromised physical health which can lead to poor mental well-being. To ensure that each animal is getting the nutrients that they require, the zookeeper will not only plan their daily menu to ensure that their diet is as balanced as possible, but they will also weigh and portion the food to ensure that each animal gets the correct amount.

For some species such as gorillas, it’s important to distribute the food around the enclosure—or even to hide it—to make sure the food is being shared and ensure that the animals are being enriched by the process of browsing for their food. If an animal is unwell or has a pre-existing health condition then their medication may need to be hidden in, or administered via, their food as well.

Feeding the animals can be a particularly physically demanding aspect of the zookeeper’s job, especially for those keepers working with larger animals. The dry food that is used in many zoos typically comes in 25 kg bags which must be lifted into the right place, carried into enclosures, or poured into feeding bowls. Many animals also eat a large amount of fruit and vegetables as part of their diet. When this is delivered it also needs to be lifted, sorted by type, and distributed appropriately, which can be a back-breakingly heavy job for a zookeeper.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Habitat Maintenance and Enrichment: Creating a Stimulating Environment

After the animals have been fed their living areas need to be cleaned and maintained. The level of cleaning and maintenance required is likely to change on a daily basis but the process will almost always involve the removal of animal waste, any uneaten food, and dirty bedding materials such as hay.

Once these practical but vitally important maintenance tasks have been completed, the zookeeper will often stay in the animal’s enclosure to undertake some environmental enrichment tasks. Environmental enrichment plays an integral role in ensuring that animals are kept both mentally and physically active. Enrichment is defined as anything that promotes physical activity or mental stimulation.

Some examples of creative enrichment activities and solutions that zookeepers might implement for their animals include mirrors being added to primates’ enclosures. They enjoy looking at their reflection and watching themselves perform their day-to-day activities. Smaller animals may be provided with puzzle feeders that encourage them to forage for their food. Animals that enjoy climbing may be given tools that enable them to do so. And even daily training sessions and interactions with their keeper are a form of enrichment that allows the animals to be mentally stretched and stimulated.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Health Checks and Medical Care: the Well-being of the Animal Comes First

The most important role of the zookeeper is to ensure that the animals in their care are happy and healthy. This is why regular health checks are one of the most important roles of the zookeeper. Whilst the zookeeper can usually perform these health checks independently, they also play a vital role in ensuring that the animal is prepared for any veterinary care. They are often present at the appointments and work with the vet to ensure that the animal is as calm as possible.

Because animals can’t tell you if they’re feeling unwell or where they are feeling any pain or discomfort, part of the zookeeper’s daily routine includes observing animals to check for any health or behavioural issues. Zookeepers know their animals best, so they are best placed to speak on their behalf or call the vet if they are displaying any unusual or out-of-character behaviours.

If the vet decides that a course of treatment is necessary then it is the responsibility of the zookeeper to administer any medications, monitor the animal’s health and regularly report this back to the vet. If the animal needs to undergo a medical procedure, then the zookeeper will also usually be in attendance for this, providing comfort and a familiar face to the animal.

Witnessing any animal in pain or distress can be difficult. But this is especially true for zookeepers who have dedicated their lives to the safety and well-being of the animals in their care. When you see an animal that you are responsible for feeling unwell, undergoing surgery, or ultimately succumbing to illness or old age this is without doubt the hardest part of the role of a zookeeper. It can take a significant emotional toll and requires an incredibly high level of mental resilience.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Educational Outreach and Public Engagement

Not everyone agrees with keeping animals in captivity, but in the right environment, there are benefits of doing so. Zoos can help to protect endangered species, foster successful breeding programmes for animals in danger of extinction, and educate the general public on the importance of protecting the animals that they see as part of the visit, as well as preserving their habitats and ecosystems.

This educational service is often an important component of the zookeeper’s job. Zookeepers should be outgoing and knowledgeable about the animals that they care for so that they can clearly and concisely share this information with visitors. Zookeepers often lead animal information talks or feeding sessions with a focus on providing both information and positive interaction to zoo guests. By providing information about conservation efforts and the importance of species preservation, zookeepers are working to promote this and to protect the animals they care for.

Research shows that visitors are receptive to conservation messaging and initiatives at zoos and are more likely to participate in on-site conservation opportunities as opposed to after their visits. The research also suggests that repeat visitors are even more inclined to seek out conservation efforts compared to those visiting zoos for the first time. This means that those people who visit zoos and have a good conservation-based interaction with a zookeeper are more likely to care about animal conservation moving forward.

This is why this aspect of a zookeeper’s role is so important. Zookeepers can humanise their animals to their guests by sharing anecdotes of memorable interactions with the public. These stories help to form a bond between the animal and the visitor, and this will only benefit the species in the long run.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Unpredictable Moments: Adaptation and Crisis Management

Whilst we have covered the average life in the day of a zookeeper it’s important to note that animals (no matter how big or small) are unpredictable and that means that working with animals can be unpredictable too. Emergency situations often arise and it is important that zookeepers are always prepared to handle these. An enclosure could become damaged and need immediate repair, for example, or an animal could be injured and need a visit from the vet.

Being able to keep calm and level-headed in an emergency is a vital part of being a zookeeper. Some zookeepers have faced significant challenges throughout their careers. Some examples of these include animal escapes or natural disasters. All zoos with procedures in place to handle these kinds of emergencies, no matter how unlikely they are. And it is important that all zookeepers are aware of how they should handle these situations and prepared for the worst, whilst also hoping that the worst never happens!

Teamwork and crisis training are important for zookeepers as a result of this. Knowing how to manage crises is an important part of the role, and most zoos will ensure that their zookeepers are trained regularly and kept up to date with the latest crisis management techniques. Understanding best practices in any situation is the key to handling crises well as a zookeeper.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Conclusion: the Rewards and Challenges of Being a Zookeeper

In many ways, the role of the zookeeper is predictable thanks to the familiarity of their day-to-day routine. They care for the well-being of their animals, feed and enrich them, and ensure that their health needs are met on a daily basis. But there are also challenges involved in this routine: zookeepers work in all weathers and all temperatures. Whilst cleaning out a tiger’s enclosure might feel almost pleasant when the sun is shining, it can be miserable when it’s cold and raining outside. Zookeepers also have to deal with the emotional trauma that accompanies the ‘circle of life’ within the animal world: losing an animal you have dedicated your career to caring for can be very difficult.

Despite this, working as a zookeeper is an incredibly rewarding career. Zookeepers get to work closely with animals and also play a crucial role in contributing to their conservation. Zookeepers are driven by love and passion: love for their animals and passion for their protection and conservation. It is a great job for an animal lover and an important and well-respected career path.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper
animal care level 3

Interested in an Animal Care course?

We offer the Animal Care Level 3 through our online campus.

Learn more about our Animal Care Level 3 course

Read another one of our posts