Many parents ask me how they can help their child gain the necessary experience to pursue a career in the wildlife and animal industry. It’s great to see parents so engaged in the interests of their child, and depending on a child’s age, you can actively help your child pursue a wildlife related career.
For young children (5-12 years old)
If your child adores wildlife and is constantly saying that they want to work with animals when they grow up, that’s great! I would highly recommend not pushing them toward a career with wildlife and animals at this age. They have plenty of time when they’re teenagers to move towards their goal, if that’s where their interest still lies. Continue to encourage their love of wildlife by participating in activities and developing their knowledge in meaningful, fun ways.
- Build basic animal knowledge. There are plenty of activities that can continue to encourage your child’s love of wildlife and build their knowledge. In fact that’s the reason Wildlife Fun 4 Kids was developed. Have a look around this site, there are plenty of great hands-on investigations or wildlife activities you can start doing with your child at home and out and about.
- Encourage Zoo keeper for a day programs. At this age, it should be all about fun. Zoo keeper for a day programs are a great way for children to gain more experiences with wildlife.
- Become wildlife carers. It’s important to remember, as the parent, you will be the primary carer of the animals you take care of and it can be quite demanding on your time (and your sleep!). Your child can help you when you feel it’s safe for both child and animal. By caring for sick, injured or orphaned animal, you will be modelling wildlife handling skills, teaching children about the needs of animals and reminding your child that wildlife aren’t pets and can’t be cuddled and petted all the time.
For teenagers (and adults looking for a career change!)
Although most wildlife and animal related careers will require experienced and academically qualified staff, you can improve your chances by gaining skills in the area. The following can be a big help:
- Get a driver’s license. Encourage your teenager to get their license as soon as possible. This is usually a prerequisite in most zoos and wildlife institutions.
- Learn First Aid. Working with animals has its risks and any attraction dealing with animals and the public together need plenty of first aiders on site. Zoos and animal institutions have to pay to train their own staff; this is costly in both time and money. If your teenager already has their certificate, potential employers may look more favourably upon them.
- Become computer literate. Keepers, wildlife education officers and rangers all need to document their animal observations or write reports. Many zoos are now moving toward using computer programs to record data rather than paper filing systems. Ensuring your child is familiar with a computer and the main software packages available (like Word and Excel), will help them with their career in many wildlife and animal industries.
- Build up a range of useful skills. Take a look at the various short term courses advertised by zoos or other animal related organisations. These are a good way to build more knowledge about animals and eventually show employers that your teenager is actively moving toward their goal of working in the industry. E.g. Animal behaviour, wildlife care and husbandry courses.
- Get some experience in wildlife rehabilitation. Wildcare is a great place to become a wildlife carer. Hands-on experience is highly sought after in the wildlife and animal industry, just ensure you are doing it for the right reasons and realise that becoming a wildlife carer is a big responsibility and a lot of work.
- Look at seasonal zoo employment. If your teenager really wants to be a wildlife keeper, many of the larger zoos will take on temporary employees during the summer. Although there is no guarantee of you being kept on full time, it is a way to get your foot in the door.
- Become involved. One of the best ways to get a job in the animal industry is to volunteer your time. Help your teenager sign up to become a volunteer. Not only will they be learning valuable skills but they’ll also learn more about what their chosen career entails. They may find that it’s not what they expected or they may become even more enthusiastic. If they love volunteering, ensure your teenager introduces themselves to management and treats their volunteer work just like they would a job. Be on time, ring if you are unable to come in, be enthusiastic.
For parents – Ensure your child does most of the work themselves. It doesn’t look good if a seventeen-year-old can’t phone in to say they are sick or turns up to volunteer work on their first day with their mother or father at their side. If they are capable, try to persuade/allow them to take control and do it themselves. Employers are looking for independent young adults.
Do you have a child who would love to be a zookeeper, wildlife education officer or ranger?
What do you actively do to help them?