The Real Poop
It all started with five little words: "Daddy, I want a doggie." The love for dogs became a love for all animals, and just a few years later you knew you'd found a lifelong passion. The neighborhood kids joked that all of your friends had four legs; stray cats showed up at your door looking for a place to stay; your backyard looked like a wildlife preserve.
And of course, you spent your weekends strolling through the zoo.
The zoo staff knew your name and sometimes even kept the gates open a little late so you could catch one more glimpse of the animals before heading home. Then one memorable night, the director of the zoo came up to you and asked, "How would you like a job emptying the garbage cans here?" And so began your journey from pet owner, to zoo custodian, to zookeeper.
A zookeeper is like being a babysitter—only every baby has a different diet and half of them could kill you.
A zookeeper is the parent, nanny, doctor, dietician, teacher, and fitness instructor for every animal in the zoo—from spiders to spider monkeys. Along with your colleagues, as a zookeeper you'll make life comfortable for animals that aren't necessarily used to living behind bars in the middle of a city. Whether you'll be comfortable, income-wise, is a different story, as you'll only be averaging $28,000 a year (source).
Animals don't take days off, so you'll have to be flexible, ready to get to the "office" at a moment's notice. Tickles the panda is having cubs and she doesn't care that it's 2:00AM. Jojo the giraffe doesn't care that it's Thursday night and you want to get home to watch Vampire Diaries—he's sick and you have to take care of him.
You won't just be limited to land creatures, either. Aquarists are zookeepers for animals that live underwater (source). So make sure you're SCUBA certified and ready to dive. Get your wetsuit ready, take a deep breath, and prepare to oversee (oversea?) your bubble-blowing friends.
If you're like the normal zookeeper, you got into this career because you're passionate about animals, the same way accountants are passionate about counting money or cartographers are passionate about making maps. You'd probably find a way to hang out with wild animals even if you weren't getting paid for it (though probably with a lot more danger involved), so being part of a zoo staff is icing on the cake.
This life may seem like a cuddly monkey ready for a hug, but it can be tougher than an alligator's hide (who also wants a hug). You'll be working in all weather conditions, at any hour of day or night. You'll be present for moments both beautiful and sad: births, life lessons, mating seasons, deaths—you'll be there for the entire circle of life.
You'll also be working tirelessly to save animals from extinction. Besides educating children and giving people a great opportunity to stare at monkey butt all day (where do we sign up?), maintaining a zoo is about conserving wildlife and spreading awareness of the dangers animals and their habitats face.
You're the voice for species that lack the ability to speak for themselves—kind of like the Lorax with an hourly wage.
That doesn't mean you're a glorified Dr. Doolittle. If you're looking to talk solely with the animals, you'd probably be better off moving to Africa. Even though you spend much of your day with exotic creatures, you'll have plenty of human contact too.
Having a friendly personality is what the zoos of America want in a zookeeper, so your ability to entertain school kids on a field trip will be just as important as your ability to deal with lions, tigers, and bears.
At the end of the day, these animals need you, and by golly you need them—partially because their needs keep you employed. So if the gorilla throws poo at you, you deal with it. If the elephant decides to relieve herself while you're hosing her down, you keep calm. If you trip and fall face-first onto a pile of tiger dung right after lunch, you just clean it up. But maybe you throw up a little bit too.
This is your job. You were born to be a zoo whisperer.
Just please take off your shoes before you enter the house.