It’s likely you’re here because your child is animal-mad and you want to help them achieve their goal of working with wildlife. It’s great to see parents so engaged in their child’s passion.
I worked as a zookeeper and wildlife education officer and have plenty of insight into what’s involved and what it takes to get into the industry.
Depending on your child’s age, you can actively help them to pursue a wildlife-related career.
Wildlife Career information for young kids
(5-12 years old)
If your child adores wildlife, that’s incredible news. It looks like you fostered a child with a beautiful connection to nature. Thank you!
At this age, I do not recommend pushing your child toward a career with wildlife and animals specifically. The ages of 5 to 12 are years when your kids are considering lots of different interests and finding their true passion. Allow them to steer their own path for now.
This doesn’t mean you can’t continue to foster a love of nature in your child. Encourage your children to love wildlife by developing their knowledge in meaningful, fun ways:
Build basic animal knowledge
There are plenty of activities that will encourage your child’s love of wildlife and build their knowledge.
Have a look around this site -I’ve got a tonne of great hands-on investigations or wildlife activities you can start doing with your child at home and out and about.
Encourage ‘Zookeeper for a day’ programs
At this age, it should be all about engaging, hands-on activities. Zookeeper for a day programs are a great way for children to gain more experience with wildlife.
Become wildlife carers
Depending on where you live, there may be programs available that allow you to care for wildlife in your home. It’s important to remember that, as the parent, you will be the primary carer of the animals you take in, and it can be quite demanding on your time (and sleep!)
Your child can help you when you feel it’s safe for both the child and the animal.
By caring for sick, injured, or orphaned animals, you will be modeling wildlife handling skills, teaching children about the needs of animals, and reminding your child that wildlife are not pets and can’t be cuddled and petted all the time.
Wildlife career information for teenagers
(or adults looking for a career change!)
Although most wildlife and animal careers will require experienced and academically qualified staff, you can improve your chances by gaining skills in the area. The following can be a big help:
Get a driver’s license
Encourage your teenager to get their license as soon as possible. This is usually a prerequisite in most zoos and wildlife organisations.
Working with animals has its risks and any attraction dealing with animals and the public together need plenty of first-aid trained people on site.
Zoos and animal institutions have to pay to train their own staff; this is costly in both time and money. If your teenager already has their certificate, potential employers may look more favorably upon them.
Become computer literate
Keepers, wildlife education officers and rangers all need to record animal observations or write reports. Many zoos use computer programs to record data rather than paper filing systems.
Ensuring your child is familiar with a computer and the main software packages available (like Word and Excel), will help them with their career in many wildlife and animal industries.
Build up a range of useful skills
Take a look at the various short-term courses advertised by zoos or other animal-related organisations. These are a good way to build more knowledge about animals and eventually show employers that your teenager is actively moving toward their goal of working in the industry. E.g. Animal behaviour, wildlife care, and husbandry courses.
Get some experience in wildlife rehabilitation
Wildcare is a great place to become a wildlife carer. Hands-on experience is highly sought after in the wildlife and animal industry – just ensure you are doing it for the right reasons and realise that becoming a wildlife carer is a big responsibility and a lot of work.
Look at seasonal zoo employment
If your teenager really wants to be a wildlife keeper, many of the larger zoos will take on temporary employees during the summer. Although there is no guarantee of you being kept on full-time, it is a way to get your foot in the door.
One of the best ways to get a job in the animal industry is to volunteer your time.
Help your teenager sign up to become a volunteer. Not only will they be learning valuable skills but they’ll also learn more about what their chosen career entails.
They may find that it’s not what they expected, or they may become even more enthusiastic. If they love volunteering, ensure your teenager introduces themselves to management and treats their volunteer work just like they would a job. Be on time, ring if you are unable to come in, and be enthusiastic.
If your child is volunteering: helpful information for parents
Ensure your child does most of the work themselves. It doesn’t look good if a seventeen-year-old can’t phone in to say they are sick or turns up to volunteer work on their first day with their mother or father at their side.
If they are capable, allow them to take control and do it themselves. Employers are looking for independent young adults.
Do you have a child who would love to be a zookeeper, wildlife education officer, or ranger? What do you actively do to help them?