Are you an animal lover and considering a job working with them? If so, then it’s best to familiarise yourself with the requirements needed for a career path in animal care. One being the right disposition and the other, a thirst for new knowledge. Choosing to pursue this career, not only requires you to learn everything there is to know about the animals themselves, you’ll also need to develop an understanding of the habitats the animals live in, dietary requirements and temperature regulations for each animal in your care. Applicants tend to either study a zoology course at university or learn from on the job experience.
There are key areas that you need to study in depth which are:
- Habitat and acute temperature and humidity control
- Food and medication preparation
- Psychological and physical health
- Needing to present information and lecture on topics
From an academic perspective, it might help widen your knowledge if you study these subjects:
- Areas that may help with presentation and confidence in public speaking, such as Drama, can be a useful secondary subject
Continue reading, as we’ll investigate the different facets of zookeepers and animal care work
Diet and nutrition
Animals in general, require a diverse and highly specific dietary routines, and you should learn about the different effects of different food upon animals. For example, did you know that while bearded dragons need dark, leafy greens as part of a healthy diet, they shouldn’t be fed spinach — one of the most well-known dark, leafy greens!
For a role in animal welfare, A wide range of nutritional knowledge is demanded, including:
- How different animals digest food — from a basic understanding to how different animals physically break down foods, to how different foods can change faecal consistency in animals.
- What, and how much, food different animals need — from knowing the basic, essential parts of their diet to complex understanding of re-formulating diets.
- Supplements — from the use of short- or long-term supplements in animals to seasonal use.
- Understanding how to use body condition scoring — from observing and recording animal body condition to understanding how their diet can be adapted to change body condition scoring.
Habitats and environments
The health and wellbeing of each animal highly depends on the temperatures they’re kept in. Without temperature regulation via the use of an appropriate air conditioning system, they could have their growth stunted, or worse, could die. One of the many tasks a zookeeper must be able to do is observing animals for signs of heat stress.
Despite how much effort that is put in to replicate the animal’s natural habitat, no zoos have perfected it. The enclosure must therefore be adapted to suit a number of needs, such as humidity, ventilation, and temperature control.
How to specialise in Reptile care
Reptiles can be acutely affected by heat stress, despite they alleged to be sun loving creatures. Symptoms in reptiles include lethargy, lack of appetite, and rapid breathing. Reptiles are very attuned and reliant upon the temperature of their environment.
That is why zoos are always scouting for revolutionary temperature control technology. For example, at Paignton Zoo, they welcomed the public-vote named Khaleesi, a Komodo dragon at the end of 2018. As the largest species of lizard in the world, its temperature and basking needs are a little different. With this in mind, the zoo is using a new heating and lighting system that deploys multiple heat sources and lighting spots with different heat levels emitted. The system allows staff to control the temperature at different spots within the enclosure, encouraging Khaleesi to move around the space throughout the day to gain exercise.
How to specialise in mammal care
Mammals also have a dependency on specific habitats and careful temperature regulations. For mammals, signs of heat stress can be different than with reptiles: they share the panting but can also become anxious or start to drool.
Zoos tend to follow a procedure to keep the door to their shelter houses open at all times, that gives the animal access to fresh air and extra space. However, this makes heating the house difficult and often inefficient, as the building will often have the heating running when no animal is indoors to need it. These heaters would therefore be left running 24 hours a day in the winter, regardless of the animal being present to require it. Movement sensors do not help, as the heaters would turn off when the animal settles down to sleep or stops moving to rest during the day.
There are some zoos who are pioneering smart-sensor temperature control technology, which are able to detect body heat from the animal. If the animal leaves the enclosure to head outside, the heating turns off. If it returns in, even if it isn’t moving during rest, the heater will stay on.
For anyone beginning a career in this field, this knowledge is crucial, you must always be mindful of how the animals in your care are impacted by temperatures. You’ll want to knuckle down on your science studies to achieve this!
Looking after animals in poor health
Sadly, not all the animals within your care are going to be happy and healthy. Sometimes, you will need to care for animals who are in poor health, be it physically or psychologically. This can be one of the more trying aspects of this career, and certainly something you will want to back up with plenty of knowledge and studying.
- Being able to spot symptoms — like with heat stress, a zookeeper must know what warning signs to look out for and report them to the necessary veterinarians. At higher levels, zookeepers and animal carers are expected to be able to spot trends in poor health and create a treatment plan.
- Administering medication and treatment — adding medication to food may be simple, but there are also much more complex treatments that higher-level zookeepers may need to perform.
- More complicated medical procedures — assisting during medical procedures may also be required, such as observing vital signs and handling the animal.
Temperature control, nutrition and habitat are all crucial part of the animal welfare world. So before embarking on you career path make sure you are ready to learn a lot about these topics. It’s not just about understanding the need for animal conservation and protection; you must learn how to provide it.
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