28/11/2013 – Getting into Keeping

This week I thought I’d would write a bit about how to get into Zoo-Keeping. It is a very competitive field to get into and vacancies are few and far between.  We have four keepers at Birdland and our backgrounds are all slightly different.
Personally I have always had an interest in birds, encouraged by my Grandfather who used to help me identify what was coming on to the feeders in the garden. From a young age I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club and did several bird surveys, both at home and in the nearby countryside.
After completing my A Levels I then went to the University of Birmingham where I studied Animal Biology. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it but knew I wanted to work with animals somehow.  During the 3 year course many topics we covered but to this day I can only  remember one reference to birds and that was Emperor Penguin dive time (must have been fate!).   I graduated in 2001 and moved back home to Gloucestershire and was fortunate enough to see a vacancy for a trainee bird keeper a few weeks later. 13 years later I’m still here!
Chris used to work in a hotel in Wales, doing night duties and the like and I can still remember interviewing him. Most interviews I am involved in include a 30 minute tour and chat. With Chris, I was with him for two hours! He obviously made a good impression.
Both Rob & Helen did Animal Management courses, Rob at the local HartpuryCollege just outside Gloucester. He started here not long after finishing and has been here over 14 years. Helen spent a year working at Chester Zoo on the bird section basically as a volunteer (i.e. unpaid)
So you can see we have a wide range of backgrounds. As a small zoo we do not necessarily always look for lots of qualifications (but obviously it helps) but more so enthusiasm and interest in what we do. I can’t speak from personal experience but I would assume some of the larger zoos would like all the relevant qualifications and also experience. This is fair enough if you are applying to work with Elephants, Big Cats or the Great Apes but how do you get the experience if you can’t get a job in the first place?
If you are looking at getting into the field then the best advice I can give you is to get some experience. Volunteer at your local zoo/animal rescue/vet or apply to do work experience. If I’m looking at a CV I’m always going to like the look of someone who has worked with animals than someone who puts that they love animals. You’d be amazed how many work placements we get who get squeamish and handling meal worms or day old chicks and by doing a work experience or volunteering you immediately get used to some of the things that go on behind the scenes.
Qualifications are becoming more important and many colleges and universities now offer appropriate courses. Have a look around and see what courses suit you. Many colleges are now residential and have large animal departments. Hartpury, Sparsholt and Reaseheath are among some of the better places.
Be aware that if you want to be a zoo keeper that it is not all cuddling up with fluffy animals. A large percentage of our days are cleaning poo, chopping fruit or washing up and, of course, we are out in all weathers to make sure our animals are well looked after.  The hours are long and I am yet to meet a keeper who drives a Ferrari!
If you are interested in volunteering with us, or doing work experience then details are available on our website
Next week we will have a full catch up on whats been happening in the park as we count down to Christmas
See you then

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