Choosing a career is never easy, and you may not think you can craft an entire life’s work from your enthusiasm for reptiles — but countless people do just that. Read on for descriptions of some possible career choices, and the steps you can take to place yourself into one (or more) of these reptile-related professions.
A career as a zookeeper can be a very rewarding and challenging profession for reptile enthusiasts to pursue. The American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) defines a zookeeper as an individual who works hands-on with animals in a zoo setting to ensure the animals are healthy and happy. Zookeepers play important roles in captive-breeding programs, conservation efforts, research, public education and the enjoyment of zoo visitors. Everyday duties may include everything from animal care and feeding to enclosure cleaning, design and maintenance.
As far as interactions with reptiles go, this field is somewhat unique. Although zookeepers are often responsible for making sure their animals receive the best care, interaction and handling isn’t necessarily encouraged. Many of the reptiles on display in zoos are endangered in the wild or are part of captive-breeding programs, so zookeepers must be very careful with their charges. Additionally, many of these animals are quite capable of harming the zookeepers themselves, so these professionals must limit their physical interactions with them.
Interaction with the general public is also required. Zookeepers are on the front lines of public relations as they go about their work. They may often be required to take time out to answer questions and educate zoogoers about the animals in their care.
In most cases, landing a job as a zookeeper requires a college degree. The courses you choose and previous volunteer experience you have can greatly improve your chances. A major in zoology, biology or an animal-related field, such as conservation or animal training management is highly recommended, not to mention taking as many herpetology courses as you can. In your free time, or before entering college, it would also be a good idea to obtain volunteer or internship experience in the reptile house at a zoo near you. Veterinary hospital experience is also recommended. A job in a reptile department in a retail store could also help. Basically, the more experience you have with the animals, the better.
Zookeeper jobs can be hard to come by. There are a limited number of zoos in the country, and if you’re hoping to stay in a particular geographic area, your opportunities may be even fewer. Professionals who do secure work tend to remain in their positions, on the forefront of education and conservation — it’s easy to see why.
However, with the growing popularity of zoos and wild animal parks, there is much room...