Zookeeper | Youthcentral

Alan, 31

If you don't fancy interacting with reptiles, amphibians, and insects on a daily basis, then Alan's job is not for you. He loves it, especially the challenge of exhibiting live animals at the Melbourne Museum. Find out more:

Fact file

Job description: Cleans, feeds, observes and cares for animals; displays live animal collections; manages and trains staff; answers visitors' questions; gives talks; develops policies and procedures for management of live exhibits; controls budget expenditure.

Subjects studied: English, Maths, Chemistry, Biology and Physics.

Further training: Alan studied for a Bachelor of Applied Science in Scientific Photography at RMIT (3 years).

Salary: $39,000 to $54,000


When it comes to advice on how to care for animals, Alan is a virtual 'one-stop shop'. His expertise extends from our native quokkas to rock scorpions, so it's not surprising that he was head-hunted by the Melbourne Museum to coordinate the Forest Gallery and Live Exhibits unit.

The surprising part of Alan's story is how he arrived at this point of his career. Having taken a traditional, science-based VCE, he linked science with a favourite pastime and chose to study scientific photography at tertiary-level. He thought it would lead to job as a photographer at a research institute.

But for Alan, there was always something undefined tugging him in a different direction. It was the lure of wildlife. And the lure was there from a young age.

"I think the biggest mistake my parents ever made was to buy me a bug catcher! When I look back, my career path should have been predictable, but amazingly, even after I chose photography, I was still unsure!"

Throughout school and university, Alan always kept an interest in animals - especially in his favourite group, the invertebrates. He became a self-taught expert, and was often invited to speak at meetings of field naturalists and bush-walkers. All the while, he supported himself by photographing weddings, parties - anything, even studio portraits.

Wildlife or nothing: Over time, Alan realised that unless photography involved animals, it didn't really capture his interest. And to be fully satisfied, photography had to involve not just animals, but wildlife - in all its diversity. That realisation came to him trackside, while filming horse races.

Despite that aspiration, Alan's career took a new twist when he headed up the Mammals and Birds section at the Ballarat Wildlife Park. That move switched the emphasis from photography to serious animal husbandry.

Three years later, he set about combining the two interests in a business of his own, the Australian Nature Education Centre. Alan maintained live animal displays and ran activities related to education and tourism. He loved it and so did the schools. The trouble was, it didn't pay.

So when the Melbourne Museum beckoned, Alan followed. He's now where he wants to be, enjoying first-hand the impact of the live exhibits on the visitors to the Forest Gallery.

Working at the Melbourne Museum also keeps Alan in touch with invertebrates. "I'm involved in the development of a 'quarantine insectory'. It holds live exotic tarantulas and scorpions that were confiscated after illegal importation."

Job specs

A zookeeper helps care for animals in zoos and wildlife parks, and provides assistance to veterinary staff. Zookeepers observe animal behaviour and provide enrichment activities for the animals in their care. Zookeepers also provide information to the public on animals and conservation, and create appropriate environments for education and animal welfare. Zookeepers may work with a wide variety of wildlife, both exotic and native, such as birds, mammals and reptiles. They work in city and open-range zoos.

Personal requirements:

  • enjoy practical and manual activities
  • interested in animals, their welfare and conservation
  • able to handle animals with confidence and patience
  • able to make accurate observations
  • free from allergies aggravated by animal hair, feathers, fur and dust
  • able to undertake manual and sometimes heavy work.

Getting started

Find out more about a career as a zookeeper:

Zoos Victoria
PO Box 74 Parkville, VIC 3052
Tel: (03) 9285 9300

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).