A zookeeper cares for animals in zoological parks or aquariums. The work
of a zookeeper can be as varied as the animals they care for.
"There are two main parts of any zookeeper's job," says David Merritt.
He is the curator of marine mammals at a zoo in Indianapolis. "One is feeding,
the other is cleaning up. The simplest parts of the job are the most important.
Those two functions take up most of the zookeeper's time. But the modern zookeeper
does a lot more."
Merritt became a zookeeper by accident. "I fell into it," he says. "I always
had an interest in animals and had a lot of pets when I was a kid, including
some exotics," he says.
"I was working on a farm cooperative and a friend in the field of marine
mammals got me involved. At first, I trained dolphins for public presentations.
I also was involved in marine mammal strandings for about a 10-year period."
Modern zookeepers tend to become specialists. There are carnivore keepers,
bird experts, primatologists (monkeys and apes) and herpetologists (snakes).
"There is such a wide variety of animals -- from snakes to elephants to
dolphins -- that zookeepers will tend to specialize over a career," says Merritt.
As well as the daily cleaning and maintenance of animal enclosures and
feeding, keepers help design, build and repair animal enclosures and care
for the plants in and around the exhibits.
Keepers also work closely with managers on conservation, reproduction and
research projects. These provide important information to help protect and
preserve rare and endangered species.
Some keepers act as public relations officers for their zoos. Working with
the public helps educate people about wildlife conservation and animals' natural
Don Adams is manager of operations and the curator of a zoological center.
He says being a zookeeper is a lot more complicated today than it used to
"You can't just love animals," says Adams. "Zoos today are always looking
for good specialists, like in all careers. Whether you're an animal health
technician, an aquariast or an aviculturist, zookeepers today need to get
more of a formal background, including education."
He says that while working one-on-one with animals is what keepers tend
to enjoy the most, a significant part of their job involves talking to the