Wildlife Education (Zoo keeping) and Interpretation
Working in Wildlife Education and Interpretation can be a very rewarding and inspiring career choice. People working with wildlife always appear to ‘love’ their job even though parts of it may be physically demanding and sometimes dirty work. Being in contact with wildlife and having the opportunity to educate others on the conservation importance of these animals is for some people a dream job. In order to work in the Wildlife Education and Interpretation sector you do not necessarily require a degree or qualification, although it does help. Many people decide they want a career change and start volunteering with Wildlife Parks or National Parks guiding tours or caring for wildlife. After gaining the skills and knowledge during volunteering they may obtain paid work. If one wishes to progress further once having obtained a job in this field studying for a Certificate, Diploma, or Degree may be necessary. For example, most people working in Wildlife Parks have some kind of qualification in animal husbandry or wildlife handling and care.
Job opportunities in wildlife education, and interpretation:
Where could you work?
Remuneration as a Wildlife Education Officer or Wildlife Keeper/Interpretation Guide can vary but most full-time positions earn an average salary. Managers or specialised positions (i.e. Conservation Officers, Research Program Coordinator) within a wildlife team can earn a more comfortable salary but it may take some time and experience for advancement. NGOs and Wildlife Organizations may pay more or less, depending on funding capabilities. People who pursue these types of jobs are not in it to gain high salaried positions. Of course it would be a bonus but the main benefit is working with wildlife and ensuring their conservation and protection. Rates of pay can be below or at the minimum wage for people starting out (irrespective of whether they have a qualification or not), but those who have formal training and can demonstrate useful skills, are likely to advance faster than others.
How to distinguish yourself from the competition
There is always strong competition within this industry. In recent years more Wildlife Parks and Reserves holding captive species have emerged out of the need to preserve the increasing number of endangered and threatened species. There are more opportunities but also more people wanting these jobs. A lot of the positions that do become available are filled internally or by people moving across parks (i.e. from London Zoo to Taronga Zoo). Hands-on experience goes a long way in gaining the role you seek and can put you ahead of other applicants. This may be from previous employment in a similar role, but most often volunteering and work experience. A lot of jobs tend to arise internally and if you are in contact with them or involved in volunteer work, you will find out about these roles first. Many people have started as Volunteers or Veterinary Nurses in a Zoo or Wildlife Park and have moved on to become Wildlife Keepers, then Supervisors, in the end leading Threatened Species Programs or Animal Hospitals. There is a lot of scope for people with specialist skills to branch out into specific divisions; for example, someone with a history of experience of handling birds of prey, whether it be from interaction as a young naturalist or from studies or work experience, will be able to work as a specialist with these species in aviaries or other captive facilities. They may even become involved with research. There are huge opportunities for advancement once you are in the industry.
Most of the jobs mentioned above do not require any qualifications. However, more technical roles such as veterinary nursing and research assistants do require qualifications. Select a course that will give you practical skills and experience as well as theoretical knowledge. If you have a goal in mind then try to find a course that caters to your needs and aspirations and consider volunteering while you study. Employers look for employees with initiative and skills specific to the job, not just qualifications.
Stress Rating and risks
There are risks associated with every career, but some are particularly pertinent to wildlife handling and education, including the following:
Dealing with the Risk of Erratic Work Opportunity:
People working with wildlife often maintain employment by diversifying their work. They may for example, teach, run education programs with schools or as an independent company, work as a casual tour guide, or work in a completely different area and volunteer until work becomes available.
Membership in relevant professional bodies is a great way to network, and does look impressive on your resume. It shows that you are serious and focused on a career in this industry and can also help you gain skills and knowledge in a different arena - participation in conferences and workshops, and seminars, and various field trips organised by wildlife groups. Some examples are listed below:
Most of these simply require an annual fee. Included is usually a newsletter or publication, opportunities to attend and be involved in seminars and conferences, field excursions and practical activities (i.e. wildlife surveys, bird watching). You can gain a great deal of experience by being involved in some of these groups expanding your employment opportunities.
To work as a contractor in this field, you should consider personal indemnity insurance. A Professional Indemnity policy aims to shield the professional's assets in the event of a claim, therefore ensuring that he/she is able to carry on their business. Most of the roles mentioned above are not filled by contractors and are more commonly recruited as casual or permanent positions.
To minimise risk of liability, you must investigate and learn about the legal and professional requirements for practicing in this field.
To work with wildlife whether it be as an Education Officer, Zookeeper, Veterinary Nurse, Tour Guide or Interpretation Officer doesn’t require a licence. However, some of the work involved within this industry may do. If you are working with crocodiles for example you do not need a licence but you will need proper training to handle these creatures. To obtain wild individuals of certain species requires a licence as does holding some reptiles in captivity. You will need to do some research if looking at undertaking some of these activities or if you are already employed with a wildlife park they will be able to advise.
In most employment situations the knowledge is far more important than the qualification. In practice however, most people who work in the industry do hold a formal qualification in captive husbandry, biological science, eco/nature tourism, veterinary nursing or education. ACS has some fantastic courses for people looking at becoming involved in wildlife handling or interpretation. These courses are fun, practical, and will provide you with the skills necessary to work in the area of wildlife care and education.
This is a foundation entry-level course to develop skills that would be valued for working in wildlife parks, zoos, refuges or wilderness management. This course incorporates some key studies, which are in demand for employees in such establishments. Subjects include Environmental Assessment, Marine Studies, Ornithology, Wildlife Management, Vertebrate Zoology and Introduction to Ecology.
This course develops your ability to organise and conduct ecotourism services. This could range from guided tours, overnight walks and treks, or self guided interpretive walks. Ecotourism is an industry that has developed hugely in recent years. This course will introduce you to some of the aspects of ecotourism guiding including environmental awareness, planning tours, displays and interpretive aids, plant and animal interpretation.
This course develops skills in bushcraft, while building an understanding of wilderness skills and an ability to manage the needs of a group of people while in a wilderness area. This course is useful to people who may have a recreational interest in wilderness exploration, orienteers, tour guides, scout leaders, or ecotour business owners.
ACS also has a number of courses in animal husbandry that can be used to create personalised Certificates or Diplomas in this area:
Animal Husbandry I, II, and III, Animal Behaviour, Animal Breeding, Animal Health Care, Horse Care I, II, and III, Pet Care. We also have subjects in beef cattle, calf rearing, pigs, poultry, and dairy cattle. However, these may only be relevant if you are looking at working in an area where these types of animals are on display.
A selection from any of the courses mentioned into a Certificate or Diploma will give you a diverse and adaptable qualification enabling you to be competitive towards gaining employment in the field of Captive husbandry, Wildlife Keeping, Interpretation and Wildlife Education.
Research assistant jobs (for government or large organisations) usually require a degree. Veterinary nurses are also required to obtain a qualification specific to veterinary nursing.
Professional Development and Career Changes
If you hold a degree in a discipline other than biological science or animal husbandry; the value of getting a second degree will be greatly reduced. By studying short courses, certificates or diplomas in Wildlife Management or Education, it is often possible to change careers into this industry.
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