Zoo Educator Job Description and Career Profile
Zoo educators are responsible for teaching visitors about the animals kept at the zoo and promoting conservation efforts.
The primary duty of a zoo educator is to provide information about zoo facility, its collection of animals, and wildlife conservation. This exchange of information can be conducted formally (in lectures and guided tours) or informally (answering questions at exhibits or information booths as patrons take in the sights and sounds of the zoo).
Educators may also emcee educational shows put on by keepers and trainers.
Zoo educators 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. They may also work with the zoo’s marketing and publicity team as they prepare promotional materials featuring the zoo’s programs. Educators may work evenings and weekends as needed, depending on what educational programs are offered by the zoo (for example, some zoos offer special overnight experiences for school groups).
Zoo educators may visit schools, summer camps, or scout meetings to present informative lectures to children. They may also be asked to present educational seminars for adults in a business setting or to provide guest lectures at college campuses. Educational presentations may involve bringing and handling live animals (often species such as turtles, parrots, and small mammals).
Many zoo educators are responsible for creating educational materials for use in their presentations. These items may include posters, brochures, banners, workbooks, and other handouts. They may also be involved with producing videos, taking photos, and creating multimedia presentations used to promote the zoo and its programs.
Materials must be developed and adapted for a variety of age groups, from preschool children to career-minded adults.
It is possible for zoo educators to find employment with zoos, animal parks, aquariums, marine parks, environmental education centers, conservation centers, and publications.
Some zoo educators are also zoologists, zoo keepers, or marine mammal trainers and combine their educational duties with these other responsibilities.
Zoo educators can advance to a variety of zoo management positions with titles such as Curator of Education, Director of Education, or Zoo Director.
Education & Training
Zoo educators tend to have college degrees in education, communications, zoology, biology, animal science, or a related field, though requirements for this position vary from one zoo to another. Advancement to upper-level management positions generally requires additional education (on a Masters or Doctorate level).
Due to the fact that they interact frequently with the public, zoo educators should also have extensive training in public speaking and communications. Writing, editing, and photography skills are also a plus, as educators must be able to come up with new materials or update established materials for use in their program.
Prior experience working as a teacher is also a big plus.
Since they are tasked with creating educational materials for the zoo, it is preferred that zoo educators have advanced computer skills. A good working knowledge of how to use common programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and photo or video editing applications will prove beneficial to the educator when they create teaching materials.
The International Zoo Educators Association (IZEA) is a professional membership group that seeks to improve the quality of zoo education and assist zoo educators in accessing the most current information in the field.
Zoo educators may also join the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), a membership group that has members from all levels of the zoo hierarchy, from keepers to curators.
AAZK membership currently totals more than 2,800 individuals.
Indeed.com cited an average salary of $32,000 for zoo educators in 2012. Salary was slightly higher in New York ($38,000), Massachusetts ($37,000), and California ($35,000). Some sites (such as SimplyHired.com) cite much higher salary levels, even as high as $90,000, but it would appear these numbers are skewed by the inclusion of director or curator level salaries during the calculation.
The Indeed.com salary average appears much more realistic, especially when compared with additional sources. According to the Jobs in Wildlife information site, for example, wildlife educators can expect to earn between $10 and $15 per hour; supervisors or those in managerial roles can expect to earn at least $20 per hour.
Competition tends to be keen for positions at zoos, especially when those positions allow the candidate to have hands on time working with the animals (as many educator positions do). Zoo educators are able to combine excellent communication skills with a genuine love of animals, making this a highly desirable career path.