You know that zookeepers take care of the animals, but what does this mean? Here are just some of the tasks:

  1. Feeding the animals—animals get special “diets.” You have to prepare these everyday and you need to know how much each animal gets, what nutrients or vitamins they need, and when to feed them.
  2. Cleaning—what goes in must come out and zookeepers spend a lot of their day cleaning exhibits and holding areas. It’s a messy part of the job, but it’s important for the health and well-being of the animals.
  3. Putting animals on exhibit—Zoo animals don’t stay in their exhibit area all the time. We shift animals into their exhibits in the morning and off exhibit every night. Some animals remain in holding areas to take a break from public viewing.
  4. Basic health—zookeepers get to know the animals in their care very well so they are the best ones to monitor basic health and report unusual conditions to the veterinarians.
  5. Enrichment and training—zookeepers provide enrichment activities that stimulate and challenge the animals. Most of these activities replicate natural animal behaviors. They also use behavioral training to assist with medical exams.

Getting a Job Like This

Most zookeepers have four-year degrees in subjects like biology or zoology, and take classes such as biology, chemistry, statistics, and animal management. When you apply for a zoo job, it’s important to have had some experience working with animals, so it’s a good idea to volunteer or get an entry-level position at a zoo, wildlife rehabilitation center, veterinary office, animal shelter, or other animal-oriented facility.

It’s never too early to start! If you know that you want to become a zookeeper and you’re still in high school, make sure you take those science courses and begin volunteering now.

Animal Health

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians work with all of the animals at the Zoo, from tarantulas and toucans to tigers and turtles. They provide medical care to sick animals as well as preventative care.

This includes routine physical exams, guidelines for proper diets, doing blood-work, checking for diseases, treating illnesses, and carefully watching new animals in quarantine to make sure they are healthy before introduction to the rest of the animal collection.

Getting a Job Like This

Veterinarian: A zoo veterinarian must graduate from an accredited veterinary college. Generally, to become a zoo veterinarian in a larger zoo, a veterinarian would require additional specialized training such as completing a one-year post-veterinary-school internship program in zoo medicine, or a 2-3 year residency in zoo medicine, or both. Some veterinarians gain the required experience in other ways such as becoming a contract veterinarian for a smaller zoo or working in an exotic animal private practice or starting as a volunteer veterinarian in a zoo, but that is less common.

Good advice from a Zoo veterinarian: “Stay in high school and get excellent grades; take all the college level prep courses you can. Volunteer at your local veterinary clinic. Obtain a four-year college degree and get excellent grades; the degree doesn’t really matter although most are biology/wildlife/agriculture oriented. Volunteer at a veterinary clinic, or better yet, get paid for it! Be admitted to a veterinary school and get excellent grades; the college doesn’t really matter although some veterinary colleges have more extensive exotic programs than others. Most veterinary colleges have strict residency requirements so you may have to plan ahead. While in veterinary school, try to volunteer in positions dealing with exotics such as a local zoo, rehabilitation facility, a private practice that sees a lot of exotics, etc. Be prepared to give up your summers and vacation time for this effort. Today, most prospective zoo veterinarians perform an internship and/or residency in zoological medicine. These programs are few in number and highly competitive, hence the remarks about good grades and lots of volunteer work with exotics.

Join the American Association of Zoological Veterinarians as a student member. If you are not fortunate enough to obtain an internship or residency, other avenues into zoological medicine include – specializing in nutrition, reproduction, or pathology; doing part-time contract work for a local zoo; and volunteering at a zoo. Other exotic careers include exotic private practice, wildlife rehabilitation, wildlife medicine, and probably the newest field – conservation medicine. HAVE DEDICATION and PATIENCE, most of these positions take a long time and a little bit of luck to secure.”

Veterinary Technicians: Most veterinary technician programs are two-year programs. A certified veterinary technician graduates with an Applied Associated Degree. A Bachelors Degree may also be required for working at at zoo, university, or research facility. Most zoos want vet techs with some sort of exotic animal experience, so it’s important to volunteer or do an internship at a clinic (small, large, or exotic), humane society, wildlife rehabilitation center, or kennel. The Minnesota Zoo offers an veterinary technician internship.

Managing the Animal Collection

The only thing predictable about managing animals at a zoo is that the collection is constantly changing. A lot of research is needed to determine what species work well in a particular exhibit. It takes many months to get the animals here and ready for public viewing.

Managers, zoologists, and zookeepers are constantly evaluating the animal collection—what’s working, what isn’t, and what to try next.

Getting a Job Like This

A career in animal management requires a degree in a biological sciences field, preferably zoology or animal science, as well as broad-based experience in exotic animal keeping and management in a zoological institution. Look for paid or volunteer positions that will allow you to gain experience in all areas of captive animal management including: birds, ungulates, carnivores, primates, small mammals, aquatics, and domestic animals.


The animals aren’t the only living things on exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo. Our horticulture staff takes care of all the plants, both inside and outside. Plants not only provide a wonderful backdrop for our exhibits, they also help to tell the story about the animals and where they live in the wild.

Horticulture involves planning what plants to use for each area, growing the plants in the greenhouse, planting the plants, watering, weeding, and continually checking the plants for disease or mites.

Getting a Job Like This

In many cases, a zoo horticulturist has a bachelor of science or an associates degree in landscape architecture or urban horticulture. “Hands-on” experience in botanic gardens, park horticulture, or nursery work is also very important.


Many of you already know about our great education programs. Your kids have enjoyed Zoo Camp or preschool programs.  Or maybe your kids talked non-stop about the Zoomobile visit to their school. It takes many people and lots of planning to produce our education and outreach programs. In addition to knowing everything about the animals, they prepare lesson plans, write stories and scripts, create fun classroom activities, lead tours, and, in some cases, bring the animals to you.

A zoo educator’s day is always different. One day, they may be encouraging preschoolers to touch a snake and describe how its skin feels. The next day, they could be demonstrating the importance of dolphin blubber for a group of fourth graders. On a third day, they might be explaining the concept of biodiversity to high school students or adult visitors. Zoo educators use a wide variety of interpretive tools including live animals, biofacts, crafts, and activities to help zoo visitors better understand the amazing world of animals and how humans can help conserve wildlife

Getting a Job Like This

Zoo Educator
Most Zoo educators have four-year degrees in biology, zoology, environmental education, or outdoor education. Many have teaching degrees as well. The number one qualification is that you must like kids! While zoo educators work with all ages – our number one audience is kids in preschool through 6th grade.

Having experience with animals also helps as many of our educators handle animals in the classroom such as snakes, insects, and small mammals. Enthusiasm and energy are very important. Our teachers create magical learning environments where students can discover how amazing animals really are.

One of the best ways you can find out if zoo education is right for you is to give it a shot. If you are a younger student take a class or two at your local zoo and see if you like it. For older students, many zoos (including the Minnesota Zoo) have teen volunteer programs where you can assist zoo educators and help younger kids learn. If you are already in college, consider applying for an internship in the education department. This is a great way to gain experience and network with zoo professionals. Zoo education is an exciting and growing field. If you like both kids and animals—this might be the perfect job for you!

Zoomobile Naturalist
The job of being a Zoomobile naturalist involves lots of combinations. You are both a zookeeper and a teacher, an educator as and an entertainer, a people person and an animal person. Preparation for a career in this field would begin in high school taking, doing well in science and communication related fields.

A four-year college degree is necessary. The specific degree isn’t crucial but something with heavy emphasis on animal science, natural resources, biology, ecology, education, communications, even marketing because you will be marketing the zoo and its animals in everything you do. As far as experience goes, it’s never too early to start volunteering and seeking out internships at zoo’s, nature centers, veterinary clinics, animal rehabilitation clinics. Public speaking is also an area where you will want to try and accumulate some experience.

The most important combination of skills for a Zoomobile naturalist is to have some knowledge of animals, environment, and conservation and the ability to communicate that knowledge in an interesting way. You can have all the facts and figures in the world but they won’t mean much if people don’t want to listen to you.

Guest Services

Most people think of zookeepers, veterinarians, and animals trainers when they think about working at a zoo, but equally important are the jobs that involve working with people. The Minnesota Zoo has a great team of guest services employees and hundreds of volunteers who greet and interact with each and every guestmaking your visit pleasant and memorable. Think about your last visit to the Zoo:

    • Someone greeted you at the door
    • You were given a daily schedule with show times
    • Your kids were able to talk to the SCUBA diver in the Coral Reef
    • Someone answered questions and interpreted interesting animal artifacts
    • When you lost something, it was found
  • Someone said “good bye” as you left the Zoo

Guest service employees and volunteers always wear a smile and have to be ready for anything. When computers break-down or exhibits/shows are closed or canceled, they have to be ready to keep you informed and provide alternatives for how to spend your day. In short, they need to know EVERYTHING about the Minnesota Zoo!

Getting a Job Like This

The guest services staff members have a wide variety of backgrounds. The most important qualification for this job is “being a people person.” Guest services communicates with all guests both satisfied and not satisfied, so a patient, calm, and friendly attitude is necessary to work with people every day! Customer service experience is important. Computer skills are also necessary to process admission fees, memberships, and all other Zoo revenue.


The Minnesota Zoo has a corps of about 800 volunteers who donate more than 90,000 hours of service every year to the organization. The impact of this incredible level of service is equivilant to about 42 additional full-time staff positions and a savings in salary dollars of about $1.5 million.

Getting a Job Like This

Volunteer Manager
Educational backgrounds and experience to prepare you for a career in volunteer management might include public administration, communication, education, or fund raising/development, just to name a few. Become a volunteer at organizations that promote or support causes that are important to you. Consider positions that might coordinate a program that utilizes volunteers. For instance coordinating a tour program for schools might involve managing volunteers who give the tours. A special event manager may be responsible for coordinating volunteers that assist with the events for an organization. Primary responsibilities include program planning, budgeting, recruiting, training, supervising, mediating, recognizing, and evaluating programs and people. People is the name of the game—you have to enjoy working with people from all walks of life in all different capacities—volunteers, paid staff, clients, guests, and board members.

Becoming a Volunteer
The Minnesota Zoo has openings for adult interpretive volunteers, ZooTeen volunteers, farm volunteers, program support volunteers, and event volunteers. Learn more.

Special Events

Remember the last time you had to plan an event? All of the details, the phone calls, e-mail, errands to run, items to buy, people to invite. Now imagine you had to do this while keeping over 2,000 animals healthy and thousands of guests happy! It’s not an easy task for our employees who plan special events at the Zoo all year long.

We plan an average of 12 public events throughout the year. In addition, many people or companies rent areas of the Zoo for private occasions—weddings, picnics, corporate parties, anniversaries, and other events. The planning and coordination is enough to make a family reunion look like a piece of cake!

Getting a Job Like This

If you’re interested in a career in special events planning, it is helpful to have a four-year college degree that includes classes in communication, marketing, public relations, and sales. If you are specifically interested in event planning at a zoo, it can be be helpful to take some science courses as well. A bachelor of science with a degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management is helpful if you want to focus on planning events like weddings and parties. And, of course, it helps to be outgoing and able to cope with unexpected occurrences! Here’s a list of some of the skills our special events coordinator thinks are particularly important for her job:

•  Oral and written communication skills
•  The ability to prioritize under pressure
•  Organizational skills
•  Knowledge of program planning and development
•  Promotions and event planning skills
•  Self-motivated and able to work under strict deadlines
•  Financial planning, budgeting, and fiscal management skills
•  Positive attitude