Zookeeper Kaitiaki Rawhi Whakaaturanga

Zookeepers care for animals in zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums.

Zookeepers may do some or all of the following:

  • clean, feed and inspect animals
  • clean animal enclosures and the wider environment
  • control pests
  • observe and record animal behaviour
  • provide activities for the animals
  • support animal breeding programmes
  • treat animals for minor injuries and illnesses under veterinary supervision
  • assist the public, answer their questions and give educational talks
  • contribute to animal research and conservation
  • keep up-to-date on animal welfare, latest animal research and conservation information
  • write relevant articles for their zoo or aquarium
  • maintain records and carry out any general office work relating to animal care.

Physical Requirements

Zookeepers need to be reasonably fit, healthy and strong.

Useful Experience

Useful experience for zookeepers includes:

  • work at a zoo or wildlife park
  • work or work experience for the Department of Conservation
  • veterinary or vet nursing work
  • work with animals or the environment.

Personal Qualities

Zookeepers need to be:

  • empathetic, patient and concerned about animals
  • able to handle stressful emergency situations
  • good at presenting information and speaking in public
  • practical
  • organised.


Zookeepers need to have:

  • knowledge of animal biology and animal husbandry (how to care for animals)
  • skill in caring for and handling animals
  • an understanding of laws relevant to their work, such as the Animal Welfare Act.



  • usually start work early and may work overtime or be on call
  • may work weekends
  • often work in smelly and noisy conditions, with animals that can be hazardous
  • may travel locally and internationally on conservation programs.

Zookeepers can earn around $47K-$90K per year.

Pay for zookeepers varies depending on experience and qualifications.

  • Zookeepers usually earn between $47,000 and $66,000 a year.
  • Zookeeper team leaders at large zoos usually earn between $61,000 and $90,000.
  • Curators at large zoos and aquariums can earn between $95,000 and $117,000.

Source: careers.govt.nz research, 2022.

Zookeepers may progress to become head keepers or move into zoo management or curation roles.

Zookeepers may specialise in caring for certain species of animals such as primates.

Years Of Training

To become a zookeeper you need to have work experience caring for animals, for example, volunteer work at animal shelters, vets or zoos, or work on a farm.

Zookeepers train on the job and can complete the New Zealand Certificate in Animal Management (Captive Wild Animals) (Level 4) from Unitec by distance learning while working.

Preference may be given to people who already hold an animal-related qualification, such as:

  • New Zealand Certificate in Animal Management (Zookeeping) (Level 4) from Unitec
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Management and Welfare) from Unitec
  • Bachelor of Veterinary Science from Massey University
  • animal related qualifications, such as Bachelor of Science (BSc) or New Zealand Diploma in Veterinary Nursing.