Sometimes it takes me a while to get through my piles but I do read most all of my emails and Emma sent in this email a while back and I thought I would answer it here.
I am 14 years of age and it has been my lifelong dream to pursue a career in either Zookeeping or Wildlife Rehabilitation. I know it is fairly difficult to gain a position in these fields as competition is strong and I would like to do anything and everything I can to help pursue my career. Do you have any tips or information that may help me?
Thank you so much for your time!
Thanks for writing Emma. The first thing you should do is to click the Animal Careers link at the top of the blog here at arkanimals.com. The Unusual Animal Career series will explain the steps you will need to take to obtain an animal career.
Because you are still young, find ways to volunteer or enroll in some of the Junior Zoo Keeper programs in your area. Sometimes there will be Wildlife Rehabilitation volunteer positions–take advantage of them.
When I was slightly older than you (15 years of age) I began training as a marine naturalist. The advantage of getting involved at a young age is that you can really find out what you like and dislike.
Also, if you do a good job, those people you work for (and alongside with), will often help you find opportunities.
Who you know goes hand in hand with what you know.
At the same time, you should read, read, read, anything you can get your hands-on related to animals and the work you are interested in doing. I read a lot of Gerald Durrell’s books (he was an animal collector then turn conservationist) along with many different works related to the different animal species.
Since I had an aptitude for psychology and was interested in animal training–I devoured books by wild animal trainers of all types.
Eventually I studied and worked for the very people whose books I read. Each author and animal expert influenced me greatly through their written works prior to my meeting and working for or with them.
If you are out on the Internet, be cautious as to where you get your information. There are different zoological groups (read the Unusual Animal Career series, as mentioned before, to find out who they are) who also have online forums. I’d suggest lurking quietly to learn what goes on and then later you might ask some questions or contribute to the discussions.
You are right, the field is competitive. So, I’d suggest working hard on your grades while you volunteer and find out more specifically what you want to do.
Sometimes it is safer to start with a broader area of study such as a biology degree because it would allow you to qualify for a wider range of jobs available–but again, you have to research.
In some cases, specialization can work for you BUT I’d suggest waiting on a specialty until you are clearer about what you actually want to do–and discover what you like to do.
I know many people who just hated zoo keeping but loved training. Many people think they want to be veterinarians, for another example, but find they can’t handle the studies or hate working with sick animals.
In the zoo keeping realm, some people insist on specializing on a particular animal group. I tend to discourage this early in your quest. You can always specialize later. If you do specialize, you tend to be limited in what types of work you can obtain later.
On the other hand, you can become THE expert and be known for your work. Sometimes a specialist gets better pay–but not always.
As far as job security–with the rate of extinction and other environmental factors at work in today’s world–I’d encourage you to start with a broad target.
Another thing I’d suggest is to see if you can define where you want to work. If you target a specific organization or geographic area you can target specifically what they are looking for.
For instance, one of my college mates decided she wanted to work for the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Everything she did was specific to the jobs available there. She got her dream job and stayed for ages until she found one that appealed to her more.
My experience is broad, but because of that I can often fit into many different jobs. In more than one situation, the job description looked like it was written for me.
The key to much of my success in obtaining work was that I had the academic training and the practical experience. I also took the time to work on relationships with people already working at the facility and immersed myself in studying the particular species.
Emma, I am happy you took the time to write and wish you much luck. Just keep working at something every day and don’t lose your dream.
I find those that fail to make their dreams come true are the ones that give up!