A female lion with her calf at the African Land Gorilla National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [Zoo staff | Flickr]
The average American zoo salary is $55,890 per year, according to the National Zoo, an international nonprofit. (You can see a year-by-year breakdown of zoo salaries here.)
And while paying that is “way cheaper than a lot of countries,” says zoo director Richard Leacock, a salary increase isn’t a priority.
“We look at our zoo budget as a long-term commitment,” he says. “As long as zoo budgets keep expanding, that’s great.”
In that light, it’s reasonable to expect that zoo salaries are going to keep going up. A 2011 survey of zookeepers found that American zookeepers make 12 percent more than the average Canadian and 15 percent more than the average British zookeeper.
But do those new jobs actually pay more money?
Well, it’s impossible to know that for sure. Some zookeepers work at the zoo more than one day a week, which can add up to significant compensation. Some of that could have to do with how much zoo budgets cover animal care. But even if that’s the case, it’s still hard to know for sure.
For example, most zoo jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree. But there are some jobs that require education — specifically, certification from the Animal Welfare Institute, which regulates the treatment of animals in zoos. You can still find people in these fields who don’t possess bachelor’s degrees, even though those occupations pay more money than they do working in government or the non-profit sector. And some people just never get the kind of degree you’d think to require to do a professional job.
For any given job, there will probably be a lot of variation between people with this kind of education and education that people don’t possess. What’s more, there’s no way to know that an individual is even qualified to be a veterinarian, much less a veterinarian in a zoo.
In that sense, getting a vet’s degree shouldn’t necessarily be prohibitively expensive. You can still get the certification in an amount of time that’s commensurate with someone’s education level — say, two years, if you’re a veterinary medical technician or two more if you’re a veterinary surgeon — with an hour of tuition and a small office fee.
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