What Does a Zoo Educator Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Melissa Ling © The Balance 2019 

Zoo educators are responsible for teaching visitors about the animals that live at the zoo and for promoting conservation efforts. They might also work at animal parks, aquariums, marine parks, environmental education centers, conservation centers, or for publications.

Some zoo educators are also zoologists, zookeepers, or marine mammal trainers. They might combine their educational duties with these other responsibilities.

Zoo Educator Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Provide information about the zoo facility, its collection of animals, and wildlife conservation.
  • Emcee educational shows put on by keepers and trainers.
  • Interact with veterinarians, nutritionists, zoologists, zookeepers, and other zoo staff to keep up to date with the latest happenings at the zoo and its animals.
  • Work with the zoo’s marketing and publicity team to prepare promotional materials featuring the zoo’s programs.
  • Create educational materials for use in presentations, including posters, brochures, banners, workbooks, and other handouts.
  • Adapt materials for various age groups from preschool children to career-minded adults.
  • Observe and monitor animals for health and behavioral issues.
  • Monitor the safety of animal enclosures.
  • Assist in transferring animals to other facilities when necessary.

Zoo educators might share information formally in lectures and guided tours, or they might informally answer questions at exhibits or information booths. They can visit schools, summer camps, or scout meetings to present informative lectures to children, or they might be asked to present educational seminars for adults in a business setting or as guest lecturers at college campuses.

Educational presentations can involve bringing and handling live animals, such as turtles, parrots, and small mammals.

Zoo Educator Salary

A zoo educator's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal care and service workers in general earn:

  • Median Annual Salary: $29,290 ($14.08/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $55,760 ($26.80/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $20,270 ($9.74/hour)

Zoo educators might have to factor in costs of travel if this represents a significant portion of their jobs and reimbursement is not provided by their employers.

Education, Training, & Certification

This occupation requires education, and applicants can benefit from association memberships.

  • Education: Zoo educators tend to have college degrees in education, communications, zoology, biology, animal science, or a related field, although requirements for this position can vary from one zoo to another. Advancement to upper-level management positions generally requires additional education, such as a master's or doctorate degree.
  • Experience: Prior experience as a teacher or in an education system can be a big advantage because much of this job involves imparting information to others. Some employers require experience in public speaking.
  • Associations: The International Zoo Educators Association (IZEA) is a professional membership group that seeks to improve the quality of zoo education. It assists zoo educators in accessing the most current information in the field. Zoo educators can also join the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), a membership group that includes members from all levels of the zoo hierarchy, from keepers to curators.

Zoo Educator Skills & Competencies

You’ll generally need the following skills and qualities to be successful in this role:

  • Computer skills: It's preferred that zoo educators have advanced computer skills because they're tasked with creating educational materials. Working knowledge of programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and photo or video editing applications is important.
  • Writing, editing and photography skills: These competencies are also a plus because educators must be able to come up with new materials or update established materials for use in their programs.
  • Communication skills: This role frequently interacts with the public, so zoo educators should also have training and/or skills in public speaking and communications.
  • Physical fitness: This job can require lifting heavy objects and controlling animals, so physical fitness and agility are required.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for animal care and service workers in general will grow by about 22% through 2026, which is much faster the overall employment growth for all occupations.

Work Environment

Zoo educators typically spend more than half their time in educational surroundings. About 20% of their hours are dedicated to planning and preparation of seminars and educational shows, and about 20% of hours are spent on animal and facility care and maintenance.

Work Schedule

Zoo educators generally work full time, and many work evenings and weekends depending on the educational programs offered by the zoo. Some zoos offer special overnight experiences for school groups.

How to Get the Job

WRITE A TARGETED COVER LETTER

Read tips for writing cover letters for animal-related careers.

APPLY

Search zoo industry job sites such as the one offered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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