How to become an animal caretaker: training, salary and opportunities
The job of animal caretaker consists in taking care of all the practical aspects of the animals’ daily lives and assisting the veterinarian in their medical care.
The place where the animal caretaker practises his profession will have repercussions on the very content of his profession; indeed, the work will be different depending on whether he practises it in a zoo or in a veterinary clinic. They can look after the wild animals in a zoological park or the dolphins in a water park, take care of domestic animals with a veterinarian or be confronted with more exotic species in an animal shop.
But the core of the animal care profession remains the same: to focus on the well-being of the animals entrusted to him. He goes in this way as part of his work: prepare animal feed according to feeding instructions and dosage, and distribute meals according to a defined schedule; provide body care for animals such as brushing or clipping; arrange and clean pens, cages, open spaces, ponds or aquariums, change bedding, evacuate excreta, a fundamental mission because it helps to prevent the risk of epizootic diseases; participate in animal transfers and movements; manage stocks of food, equipment or medicines.
In addition to these simple logistical tasks, he or she also assists the veterinarian, in particular by taking charge of the daily health monitoring of the animals (weighing, rapid examination, administration of medicines and vaccines, monitoring of any disorders), making observations, for example on behaviour and reproduction, which he or she notes in a logbook, a true identity card for the animal.
In the course of these missions, he must constantly comply with the safety and health rules that are defined.
Qualities and skills
Possess a good physical condition: the animal caretaker must carry heavy loads such as food or equipment on a daily basis; he must also know the methods of restraint to catch and maintain an animal in order to provide it with the necessary care; he often works outside, and in all weathers.
Do not be afraid of the so-called ungrateful tasks: litter cleaning and excreta disposal are part of the unremarkable tasks of the animal care profession, but they are essential to the proper performance of its function.
A sense of observation: a sense of observation, but also insight and discernment are essential qualities for the successful performance of his missions to monitor animal behaviour; his concentration and patience are necessary to establish a relationship of trust with animals and to deal with wild animals which, even if they are in captivity, can at any time be aggressive or even dangerous.
Be skilled and know how to use medical equipment: the animal handler must have good manual skills, especially in her role as a veterinary assistant, and as such she must know how to handle medical equipment.
Be passionate about animals: the job of animal caretaker is a demanding one, which sometimes requires working in the evening, on weekends and on public holidays. The work rhythms require a high availability. You must therefore be really interested in work in order to accept such sacrifices.
Ability to work in a team, composure and psychological strength are useful additions to this picture of the qualities and skills required to become an animal caretaker.
Only three schools in France are preparing for the job of animal caretaker: the rural family home La Charmelière, in Carquefou in Loire-Atlantique, offers a “animal caretaker in a zoological park” course accessible from the third grade onwards. The CFAA in Gramat in the Lot also provides training as a “trainer in charge of zoological establishments” accessible with the third level. Finally, holders of the baccalaureate can register at the Centre de Formation Professionnelle et de Promotion Agricole de Vendôme, in the Loir-et-Cher region.
The animal caretaker will start at the minimum wage, i.e. €1466 gross per month. His salary increases with experience, reaching 1815 € gross monthly at the end of his career. The salary also varies according to the level of qualification and the type of animals cared for, as well as the place where the job is performed.
Animal care workers may work in a public or private zoological park, in an animal house, in a shelter such as those of the Society for the Protection of Animals or in a veterinary clinic. Nevertheless, the possibilities of employment in a zoological park are very limited, there are only a few of them per year, between five and six. In state zoos, which are attached to the Natural History Museum, recruitment is based on a competitive examination, open at the CAP level; there is approximately one position every two years that opens.
The animal caretaker who works in a zoo run by a municipality has the status of municipal employee; if he works in a private zoo, he has no official status.
If he works in a zoo, the beginning healer will be assigned to different departments in order to receive his place in a stable position, to prove himself and to see where he feels most comfortable and efficient. In particular, if he is assigned to welcoming the public, he may have to organise guided tours, create activities around animals and answer visitors’ questions.
The possibilities for development vary according to the employer, the personal and professional background of each individual, but also and above all the additional training that can be followed, in particular to become an animal manager or even a private park manager. It is also possible to turn to the profession of veterinary assistant or even salesman in animal shops.
Do you like being in contact with wild animals and ensuring their daily well-being? Working in a zoo or animal park is the solution for professional development. Find out how to work in a zoo.
How to work in a zoo?
To be able to work in a zoo in contact with animals, it is possible to become an animal caretaker. This will assist the veterinarian in his daily tasks. Vaccinations, problem detection, hair brushing and health monitoring will be your daily routine.
Working in a zoo
You will also have to take care of all the logistics of working in a zoo. You will be responsible for feeding the animals and cleaning their pens to ensure a healthy and pleasant living environment. You will monitor the births and reproductive period of the animals but you will also be attentive to their mood and everyday behaviour. You will be the first person called to move the animals during transfers or to provide some guided tours in the zoo.
The job of animal caretaker is particularly suitable for animal lovers who know how to take responsibility and whose energy is unfailing.
Studies to work in a zoo
How to work in a zoo? Before you start working in a wildlife park or zoo, you must have completed studies to train yourself in field conditions. You will be asked for a certification as an animal handler in zoos, an animal training in zoos or a specialization as an animal handler. To obtain most of these titles, you must be over 18 years old and have a 3rd level or CAP.