Did you ever dream of having a job working with exotic animals? You’re not alone! Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious what it takes to become one of the few who manage to obtain a job as an exotic animal trainer. Here are some basic requirements for getting an entry-level job in the field.
Nothing is more important than experience for becoming an exotic animal trainer. Prior to getting that first job, there are a variety of opportunities for getting experience. Zoos and aquariums love to have volunteers. An even better way to get experience is to get one (or more) internships with zoos and aquariums. Other experience opportunities involve volunteering for wildlife rehabilitation centers, veterinarians, animal shelters, and dog trainers. Expect to have the equivalent of at least 6 months full time volunteer or intern experience before landing your first paid job.
Education is almost a non-issue in the animal training field – almost. Facilities will hire people with nothing more than a high school diploma; however, they often require several years of experience to make up for the lack of post-high school education. That means if you don’t already have a job, you need a degree. Biology and zoology are great degrees for exotic animal trainers. Psychology can be another great degree, because it is very important for understanding how animal training works. Other related degrees can be good, but it is recommended that you have a broad degree (e.g., biology) rather than a narrow degree (e.g., marine biology) to keep more options open to you.
Extra certifications and experience
Depending on the job, there are a few other certifications or experiences that may be helpful for exotic animal trainers. It is highly likely that you will be required to do some form of public speaking. If you’re uncomfortable with giving presentations, you may want to take a class in public speaking or join a group like Toastmasters. If you want to work with aquatic animals, SCUBA certification is a must. Some places require CPR certification. Most facilities require a driver’s license, since you likely will be driving zoo carts or other vehicles.
A couple of other things
Being physically fit is important. You don’t have to be a fitness freak, but you will be required to lift at least 50 lbs (some jobs require 75+ lbs). Marine mammal trainers often must pass a swim test in order to be considered for an interview. Hiring managers are also looking for people who get along well with their coworkers and demonstrate teamwork.
Finally, an open mind
I don’t mean “tolerating differences in others” (although that’s very important in every aspect of life). I mean, don’t snub a job because it’s not perfect for you. Expect to take a seasonal or part-time job for your first job – many full-time jobs require paid experience. It’s also likely that you will have to relocate. Most important, do NOT apply only for jobs with your favorite species. It will take you longer to get that vital first job, it will make you less competitive for your preferred jobs (those will go to the people who were willing to take a paid job with less charismatic species), and you may discover along the way that those animals that didn’t interest you before are now your favorites. You gain nothing by trying to hold out for the perfect job, but you will learn so much about yourself and the animal training field by examining your options with an open mind.
Do you have questions about becoming an exotic animal trainer? Ask in the comments!
Source: Personal experience