Work It Out: What It’s Really Like to Be a Zookeeper in Australia

Work It Out: What It’s Really Like to Be a Zookeeper in Australia

The prospect of working as a zookeeper is an exciting one for many kids growing up. If you’re animal obsessed and want to spend loads of time outdoors, the gig surely sounds like a dream, no?

According to Seek, the role of a zookeeper is to not only care for animals in conservation programs, but they are responsible for the maintenance of the animals’ environments and for managing education programs connected to the animals they work with.

The role requires a certain level of physical fitness, and gaining qualifications can be achieved through TAFE courses on animal care or a Bachelor of Zoology and similar.

As for the average experience of a zookeeper, well that will vary depending on the person, the zoo and the animals they care for. But Taronga Zoo Sydney Bird Keeper, Harmony Thompson, has been kind enough to give us a look into her day-to-day below.

Work It Out: Zookeeping

All the below quotes come from Harmony Thompson – Taronga Zoo Sydney Bird Keeper

What are the best parts of your job?

Working outdoors is definitely a big factor for me! Also getting the opportunity to work on conservation programs is extremely rewarding. During my time at Taronga, I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely on two of our legacy species conservation programs, such as the Regent honeyeater.

What are the worst parts of your job?

Working in extreme weather, such as 40+ degree weather or hail storms. Also, we are usually open every day of the year, so this means you tend to work most public holidays.

Can you walk us through a day in the life of being a zookeeper? (Hours, standard tasks, challenges etc.)

Currently, my alarm goes off at 5:00 am, I arrive and start work on the Bird Team at 6:40 am. The first hour and a half of the morning is dedicated to food preparation for a wide range of species. After this, I head over to aviaries and start general maintenance and housekeeping. This consists of hosing, scrubbing, disinfecting and spot picking faeces.

Once those tasks are completed, I feed all animals and spend time sighting and monitoring individual’s [animals] behaviour, to ensure everyone is in good health. I have morning tea at 10:15 am to 10:30 am.

After this, my time will either be spent cleaning buckets and huge amounts of dishes or completing extra maintenance or husbandry jobs [day-to-day care of animals like cleaning and feeding, weighing, etc.659]. This takes us to lunch at 12:15 pm and finishes at 1:00 pm.

For the remaining time of the day, I would finish up any tasks that I hadn’t finished and do a round of afternoon feeds. I also like to use some of this time to squeeze in emails and computer work. Then I finish at 3:00 pm. Depending on what we having going on some days are a little more full-on than others, but I do really love my job.

What are some comments or questions about zookeeping that you hate hearing? 

One comment that I do frequently get is “your job isn’t hard, you work with animals”. I think most zookeepers would agree with me when I say it definitely isn’t a walk in the park.

What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions attached to your work? 

One of the most common misconceptions around zoo keeping is that you get to cuddle cute animals all day, every day!

And while we may get to interact with animals in some way or another, Taronga Zoo encourages our animals to live in an environment as close to their natural environment as possible. A lot of the species on site are left to their natural behaviour which doesn’t allow much room for human interaction.

So, our days are mostly spent doing husbandry, to provide the best quality of life for the animals in our care.

Interested in reading more about broadly misunderstood careers? Check out our Work It Out pieces on sex work and nursing next.

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