Anonymous asked: This might seem like an odd question, but in your experience have you found it beneficial to seek experience working with a wide variety of species or focus on a particular subset in a zoo setting? Say for example, just focusing on multiple carnivore internships and keeper positions, or looking outside of that and seeking experience with many more species such as birds, hoof stock, primates, and carnivores. I'm just curious as to what zoo's normally like more when examining applicants. Thanks!
This is a generalization based on my personal experience and opinion, so please take it with the caveat that all zoos, keepers, and jobs are different.
I would recommend starting out general and moving into specifics later in your career, if at all. The thing is (and this important so it’s getting bolded so pay attention), when you’re trying to break into the field, it’s sort of a “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” situation for most people. The luxury of actually being able to choose — “Hmm, do I want to work with reptiles or hoofstock? Sea lions or primates?” — is so rare for newbies, it’s practically unheard of. Bottom line: you’re lucky if you get offered a position at all, let alone if you get to be picky about it. My first paid zoo position was with birds, yet I’ve wanted to work with carnivores my whole life. But I took that bird job, I took it very seriously, learned as much as I could, and kept trying to move over into the world of mammals — and wouldn’t you know it, eventually I got there (took a little more than a year, which is the blink of an eye in zoo time). And even now, I don’t only work with carnivores (my area is gigantic and includes everything from small primates to rhinos). But again, all this experience is serving me very well.
You never know what opportunities are going to come up, and what sort of experience will help you go after them. If your experience base is more expansive, you’ll be better suited to contend for all sorts of positions. If you’ve limited your experience to just one thing — let’s say primates, for the sake of an example — then you’re setting yourself up to do a little more gambling. On the one hand, if a primate job comes up, you’ll have tons of relevant experience and be ready to go. On the other hand, if it’s a primate job that also requires you to work with lots of other species… or a non-primate job at a zoo you really want to work at… well, then your chances might not be so good.
All that being said, it’s not unheard of for zoos to hire people who don’t have experience with a particular set of animals, to work directly with those animals. I always think it’s weird, but it happens, and it’s happened to me and to my friends. You just never know what they’re looking for. And that’s why the moral of the story is, apply for anything and everything that you can; take jobs that you think will give you great experience; and while it’s okay to start out trying to go in a certain direction, don’t be discouraged if that direction doesn’t work out at first — just take what you can get and work towards where you want to be. It’s much easier to get a zoo job that you want when you already have a zoo job that you don’t really want, than it is to get any zoo job when you don’t have one at all.
Best of luck!