Zookeeper Course

The role of a zookeeper involves the every day care and welfare of wild animals and is covered in our zookeeper course.

A zookeeper works in a hands-on way and is responsible for the well being of the animals living in confinement.

In most zoos, there is an emphasis on environmental enrichment and it is the role of the zookeeper to ensure that animals are mentally stimulated, able to exercise and express their natural behaviours. 


The Zoo Animal Care, Behaviour and Welfare Diploma course is specific training for zookeeper roles. This accredited Level 3 Diploma has been designed to enhance employment prospects working as a zookeeper.


As well as ensuring high standards of environmental enrichment, zookeepers trained through our zookeeper course are also often responsible for cleaning and checking enclosures, providing adequate nutrition, filling water troughs, animal handling, observing animals for signs of illness or injury, providing first aid as necessary, maintaining healthcare records and animal behaviours, giving presentations to visitors and monitoring visitor and animal interactions. 

With the emphasis now increasingly being on conservation increases, many zoos now employ specialist zoologists, ecologists and conservation experts as well as zookeepers to care for the many different types of animals kept in zoos. 

Visiting a safari park is another way to see wild animals in the UK. Wildlife Rangers perform a similar role in safari parks to that of a zookeeper and a career working as a wildlife ranger may be of interest to those who find the idea of zoos or the confinement of animals unappealing.

The Zoo Animal Care, Behaviour and Welfare Diploma Zookeeper course is also the relevant zookeeper course for jobs working with wild animals in Safari Parks. 

Learn about the welfare, behaviour, psychology, enrichment, care and conservation of zoo animals as well as the rescue & rehabilitation of wildlife in captive animal environments.

Zookeeper Courses Teach about Animals in Captivity

The primary health care of any animal in captivity as taught by our zookeeper course is the responsibility of the keeper or keepers in charge of that animal.

Many zookeepers are specialists of given species or groups of animals. For example, a keeper might be a specialist in the care of chimpanzees whilst another keeper with a specialist for the hoof-stock. Of greatest importance in this primary care, is to know the difference between normal behaviour to that which is not normal or “usual” for a particular animal. A keeper who knows his or her animals, as individuals, is a good keeper and will know immediately when an individual is unwell.

Zookeeper Course

An example may be a single zebra who has separated himself or herself from the rest of the herd or, a primate who has remained in their nest or rest area and not mixed with the rest of the group.

Unlike the usual procedure for domestic animal such as a cat or dog, a zoo captive is not examined in detail daily. Attempting to capture each animal is not feasible and neither is it conducive to animal welfare. Zoo animals are still essentially wild animals and very few species are amenable to daily handling or close human attention.

The exception is the elephant. Elephants are highly intelligent, social animals that will accept daily attention from humans. They can be checked for obvious signs of ill health and injury because they are (usually) hosed and scrubbed daily. During the process, a carer can give a visual examination of the whole body. Given that zoos have a range of exotic species signs of ill health are many and varied. Birds demonstrate different behaviours when ill compared to carnivores and knowing these different signs of illness is vital.

Stress is a condition where physiological and psychological norms are challenged. Stress can be caused by illness itself for example, a fever is a stressful experience as is a stomach ache. Unacceptable environmental conditions cause stress where stimuli and a lack of control over one’s own life, cause psychological disturbance. Constant or frequent exposure to fear causes stress as does over-crowding, food and water shortage and bullying.

Behavioural signs of stress should be apparent and a warning that physical health could be compromised as well as the obvious psychological ill health. Captive Great Apes are a classic example of how captivity can affect a non-human animal. Not all diseases are noticeable from an external examination and specialist veterinary care for zoo animals has to consider numerous reasons for ill health.

Each zoo has its own animal health care system although there are similarities between zoos. Only small zoos do not have a specialist medical centre for their animals; they rely on a local veterinary surgeon (or surgeons) who has had to become familiar with exotic zoo animals. For particular issues, they must call upon visiting veterinary specialists.

Many zoos and related establishments have, as a part of their ethos, a programme of monitoring animal welfare across the world. Some organisations specialise in one Order of animals e.g. Primates.

Behaviour is the way in which an organism responds, reacts, moves and interacts within any situation. The natural behaviour repertoire seen in wild animals can be changed by the situation of captivity.

Behaviour is a product of both genetic and environmental pressures and certain aspects of the environment are known to shape the behavioural repertoires of all species.

Environmental factors that can affect behaviour include:

  • Habitat
  • Temperature
  • Light
  • Humidity
  • Rainfall
  • Interspecies contact

In the wild animals have to show adaptability in their responses to a changing environment. Wild animal behaviour in captivity can differ greatly depending on many factors that may influence animals’ emotions, well-being and welfare. Factors that may affect a wild animal in captivity include:

  • Age of animal
  • Wild or captive born
  • Quality of animal collection housing wild animal
  • Ability to express normal behaviours
  • How many of the five freedoms are routinely met
  • Overall health and welfare status of the animal

There is a range of behaviours that can be demonstrated by animals, which are affected by the above factors, and some of these will be discussed later in the learning outcome and throughout the module

Behaviours can be broadly split into normal and abnormal behaviours, both of which are seen in captive situations. Wild animals in captivity are more likely to show behaviours which may not be common (or classified as abnormal) for their wild counterparts and these cause concern, especially when welfare of captive animals is considered.

Behaviour is all about conforming to a normal type, but why do animals do this? Animals conform for a variety of reasons including:

  • To allow for communication
  • To allow for physical and mental health
  • To allow for balance, for example predator/prey relationships
  • To allow for breeding

Some of the above behaviours are not seen within captive situations due to the nature of a captive lifestyle. Some animals may not experience breeding, fighting or social behaviours if they are housed individually and away from other individuals of the same species.

Fighting may also be discouraged within captive situations because, although it is natural in the wild, captive animals cannot escape and animal collections need to ensure their animals are free from pain, injury, fear and distress. Normal animal behaviour comes in many forms. 

Dominance can be defined as an individual having influence or power over one or many individuals. Dominant behaviours tend to occur with animals that display hierarchical behaviours and have a ‘pecking order’. Animals that are at the top of a hierarchy will dominate over those lower down the ranks. Dominant behaviours tend to occur in order to protect and have access to certain resources such as food, mates, territories or sleeping areas. These resources are seen as privileges and only available to the most dominant within a group.

As a rule, males of a species take the dominant role within a group but there are, as always, exceptions to the rule. Within hyena groups, for example, it is females who outrank the males and hold a more dominant position within the group. Wolves  show a different group structure, as there is an alpha male and female within a group and these are the only individuals that are able to breed.

Some examples of animals that show dominant behaviours in hierarchal groups include:

  • Meerkat
  • Walrus
  • Elephant seal
  • Guanaco
  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • Ostrich
  • Komodo dragon
  • Galapagos giant tortoise
  • Great white shark

There are many other examples in the animal kingdom of behaviours shown. Training to be a zookeeper though our zookeeper course allows you to know the signs to look for when the animal is showing abnormal behaviour which may be a sign of ill health or poor welfare.

Please visit our wildlife courses section for more information about the many different wildlife courses that we offer

For more information about the zookeeper course, please contact us.

If you think you may be eligible for funding towards your studies, please visit the Course Funding section of our website for more information. 

About us, our accreditation and how to enrol on our zookeeper courses