Among other things, zoo curators are responsible for the acquisition of animals at the zoo. There are also curators who specialize in various departments at the zoo, including educating the public, mammals, exhibits, research and more.
Most zoos acquire their animals mainly through captive breeding programs, although some animals do come straight from their native habitats. Some animals also are loaned to the zoo, as were the famous Giant Pandas that were loaned to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. from the government of China.
Sometimes animals are also traded among zoos as part of research or breeding programs. Since the trade and transport of animals is a regulated activity by a variety of government agencies, the zoo curator often acts as a liaison between the zoo and these agencies.
Curators are also typically heavily involved in other zoo functions, such as captive breeding, administration, publicity and marketing, research and more.
About the job
At most modern zoos, the curator is a lot more than just a spokesperson for the organization. He or she can be involved in a variety of functions at the zoo, and most curators have an extensive background and education in zoology and animal sciences.
They use this extensive knowledge of health requirements, wildlife diets, and the care and handling of wild animals to ensure that the animals in their care are healthy and safe in captivity. At most large urban zoos today, there are usually several curators working in a variety of separate departments.
There’s usually a curator who’s responsible for the entire animal collection. Then there are several others responsible for specific branches within the zoo. These positions may include a curator of birds, mammals, fish, education, research, etc.
As a curator for mammals, for example, you’d be in charge of just the mammal collection, and would supervise and be responsible for all the staff at the zoo who works with mammals. If you were the curator for exhibits, on the other hand, you would be responsible for the creation of permanent and special exhibitions at the zoo. You’d also be responsible for making sure that the exhibits are safe and informative for the guests who visit the zoo on a daily basis.
One of the most important functions of any zoo is to educate the public, and those programs are the responsibility of the curator of education. The curator of research manages all research programs and works closely with local universities and colleges.
Training and certification
Your first step in becoming a zoo curator is to get a degree. This is one of those specialized careers where you won’t find a degree program specifically designed for zoo curators, so you’ll have to enter this field by getting a bachelor’s degree in zoology, zoo science, or a related program like biology or wildlife management.
Typical coursework should include subjects such as chemistry, animal behavior, veterinary medicine, and of course general zoology. And since a typical zoo curator’s job can encompass a wide variety of duties not directly related to zoology and caring for animals, it’s a good idea to take some classes in marketing, finance, and public speaking.
You’ll also need to gain some experience before applying to become a zoo curator at a major zoo. The position typically requires at least 2 or 3 years working at a zoo in some capacity. Many curators start out as zoologists, and occasionally even zoo keepers rise up in the ranks to eventually become curators.
And since you’ll be managing people in this job, you’ll also need some supervisory experience as well, along with a thorough understanding of animal health, habitat construction and maintenance, and administrative functions at the zoo level.