Talk to the Animals

Zoologist and animal behaviour expert, Sally Hibbard, is interested in the relationship between people and their pets. She’s a fan of frogs, scared of spiders and can be seen spotting stick insects.

Talk to the Animals: Top 5 jobs with animals

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These are the cute little cheetahs you could be working alongside if you had a job at Auckland Zoo.
These are the cute little cheetahs you could be working alongside if you had a job at Auckland Zoo.

People often tell me how lucky I am to work alongside my animal crew. I do agree, though I suspect most don't realise just how much time goes into the less glamorous occupation of cleaning and general care of the animals - no fancy manicures for me.

Part of my job is running workshops for senior students interested in animal occupations. The most sought after career choices according to them are:

1) Veterinarian


Vets are essentially doctors for animals, but instead of working with just one species, vets work with all sorts, none of which will answer questions. There are large animal vets, equine vets, zoo vets and companion animal vets that tend to our pets. The role involves preventative health care - particularly for those working with livestock; diagnosis and treatment; surgery and emergency care. Entry requirements to the vet school are high, requiring excellent grades and there is a competitive selection phase. Those that are accepted into the course undertake five years of study at Massey University with a practical component in clinics.

For a comprehensive overview of how to be a vet, the Vet School website has all the information.

2) Zookeeper


Working with native and exotic wildlife, zookeepers are responsible for the daily care of animals, keeping records up to date and maintaining enclosures. Providing environmental enrichment is an important part of the role and there is also an increasing emphasis on research, participating in conservation work and educating the public. Zookeeping can be a physically demanding job requiring outdoor work in all weather and a reasonable amount of time on the end of a shovel. Due to the intense competition for zoo work, practical experience with animals as well as a tertiary qualification in the biological sciences is a must alongside a good knowledge of animal care and local conservation.

3) Veterinary Assistant/Nurse


A vet nurse or assistant has a varied role, helping in consults, caring for hospitalised animals and the general running of the clinic. Assisting the vet during surgery is another part of the job, including monitoring of anesthesia and nursing patients postoperatively. The veterinary assistant has more ongoing animal contact than the vet, albeit involving a great deal of cleaning. There is also a lot of contact with pet owners, advising on pet care and offering kind words at difficult times. Training involves a year long course and of course practical experience will make you a more useful addition to a clinic. Pay is usually quite low; though potential advancement to clinic manager will increase the rate, however decrease the animal contact.

4) Conservation Ranger


For those who like the outdoors and are passionate about native animals and the environment, a career in conservation is a great fit. There are many roles, from pest control through to monitoring of species and research. Whether setting traps or participating in species recovery, all of the work makes an important contribution to our wildlife and their habitat. My recommendation to students interested in conservation work is to do a zoology degree and include as many conservation and ecology based papers as available. Volunteer work with the Department of Conservation is advantageous, as it gives valuable experience with the organisation that will most likely offer employment in the future.

5) Animal Welfare Officer


Working with neglected and abused animals and the people responsible is not a career that will suit every animal lover. Although many cases have happy endings and sometimes all that is needed is education, the truly horrific crimes do take their toll. It takes a certain type of person to do this job. In addition to frontline work, there are other opportunities to be involved in animal welfare, such as caring for animals in the facility (usually the SPCA) as well as training, adoptions, advocacy and fundraising. SPCA inspectors undertake their training on the job, through a polytech course. A background working with animals is helpful and good people skills are a must.

If you love animals but are not ready to make it your career, there are many rewarding opportunities for those willing to volunteer their time on a regular basis, particularly for welfare organisations. This is a great way to make a difference while not giving up your day job.

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