Zoo Curator Job Description and Career Profile
Zoo curators are responsible for managing a zoo’s animal collection and staff members.
Zoo curators are responsible for overseeing all aspects of animal management. Duties generally include making decisions involving animal husbandry, diets, veterinary care, quarantine procedures, enrichment activities, animal transportation, and research projects. They also are involved in the selection and acquisition of new animals for the collection. Curators must-read reports from various keepers and compiles that information for zoo records.
Curators also supervise all zoo employees including keepers, educators, veterinarians, support staff, and volunteers. They are frequently involved in managing the hiring, training, and scheduling of zoo employees. Curators are also responsible for ensuring that their facility meets all state and federal regulatory requirements, obtaining and maintaining permits, and keeping guests and staff safe while they are on the premises.
A curator may be required to work a flexible schedule from time to time, though since this is a largely administrative role the hours tend to be fairly regular. As with many animal-related careers, some night or weekend hours could be necessary on occasion depending on the nature of the position. Curators may be “on call” to deal with emergencies or staffing issues as they arise.
A general curator oversees the zoo’s entire animal collection, manages the facility’s staff members, and completes various administrative tasks. An animal curator oversees one specific group of animals in a zoo’s animal collection, such as reptiles or mammals. Multiple curator positions may be available in a variety of areas at larger facilities; these additional curator positions are often in the areas of conservation, operations, exhibits, or research.
It is possible for curators to obtain positions with a variety of employers such as zoos, aquariums, animal parks, marine parks, and conservation centers. Curators may also advance to the position of Director (though in many parks, the General Curator also is responsible for the duties associated with a Director role).
Education & Training
In most cases, a zoo curator must have (at minimum) a four-year degree in zoology, wildlife biology, or a related field. A master’s degree or doctorate is usually preferred, though advanced degrees are not necessarily required. Managerial and business training is also desirable. Most successful applicants for curator positions have several years of prior experience working in a supervisory role, preferably with a zoo, aquarium, or another animal-related organization.
There are many zoo related internships that an aspiring curator can pursue during their undergraduate and graduate studies. A varied background can greatly strengthen an applicant’s resume. Many general curators start their careers as zookeepers, zoologists, or animal curators and work their way up the ladder.
Many zoo curators are members of professional groups like the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), an organization that boasts members in all levels of zoo management from keepers to curators and directors. The AAZK currently has more than 2,800 individual members.
The International Zoo Educators Association (IZEA) is another professional membership group that accepts curators as members. The goal of the IZEA is to improve the quality of zoo education and to assist zoo educators in creating quality educational programs for the public. As many curators are involved with educational programs for the public, they may find it useful to be a part of this group.
Compensation for zoo curator positions can vary widely based on the size of the institution and the specific duties involved. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), curators earned a median annual wage of $48,800 per year ($23.46 per hour) in May of 2011. The lowest ten percent of curators earned less than $26,580 per year ($12.78 per hour), and the highest ten percent of curators earned more than $87,380 per year ($42.01 per hour).
General curators can expect to earn higher end salaries based on the level of managerial responsibility that this position entails. Curators with many years of experience or those with specialized skills or training can also expect to earn top dollar on the salary scale.
Competition for any position at a zoo or aquarium is keen, as there are many more interested applicants than there are positions available. The BLS projects that curator positions at zoos will grow about as fast as the average for all positions (approximately 16 percent). With no significant growth in the number of zoos and aquariums expected in the near future, competition should continue to be strong for curator positions at existing facilities.