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Everything you need to know before you start a career in animal care

September 10, 2019

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Everything you need to know before you start a career in animal care

From a young age, many people nuture a strong desire to work with animals. Nature lovers simply cannot wait to get into such a hands-on role and really make a difference to animal welfare. Whether their plan is to study zoology or start a job working with animals straight away there are many factors to consider. Although having passion and a caring nature is perhaps the most important element of the role, there is also a lot to learn about biological and technological side of animal care, so there will be much to study!

There will be countless areas of study for a budding zoologist, let's start with outlining a few key topics:

·         Habitat and acute temperature and humidity control

·         Food and medication preparation

·         Psychological and physical health

·         Needing to present information and lecture on topics

Because of this, broader areas of study will be really helpful when it comes to learning about animal welfare. These include:

·         Biology

·         Anatomy

·         Physiology

·         Areas that may help with presentation and confidence in public speaking, such as Drama, can be a useful secondary subject

This article will give you an idea about the intricacies of working in the animal care sector:


What do animals need to eat?

Knowing exactly which types of food will benefit which animals is of the utmost importance. For example, did you know that while bearded dragons need dark, leafy greens as part of a healthy diet, they shouldn’t be fed spinach — one of the most well-known dark, leafy greens!

To become a zookeeper, you will be required to learn a lot about nutrition, including:

How different animals digest food — from a basic understanding to how different animals physically break down foods, to how different foods can change faecal consistency in animals.

What, and how much, food different animals need — from knowing the basic, essential parts of their diet to complex understanding of re-formulating diets.

Supplements — from the use of short- or long-term supplements in animals to seasonal use.

Understanding how to use body condition scoring — from observing and recording animal body condition to understanding how their diet can be adapted to change body condition scoring.


What kind of habitat do animals thrive in?

Some animals are very sensitive to temperature. Without moderating their environment, they could have their growth stunted, or worse, could die. One of the many tasks a zookeeper must be able to do is observing animals for signs of heat stress. Of course, prevention of heat stress is the best method, such as with a suitable air conditioning unit.

The reality of keeping an animal in a zoo I that they will most likely be far from their natural habitat. The enclosure must therefore be adapted to suit a number of needs, such as humidity, ventilation, and temperature control.


How can you keep an animal happy?

An important consideration for anyone wanting to go into this career, is that some of the animals in your care will not be happy and healthy. Sometimes, you will need to care for animals who are in poor health, be it physically or psychologically. This can be one of the more trying aspects of this career, and certainly something you will want to back up with plenty of knowledge and studying.

Being able to spot symptoms — like with heat stress, a zookeeper must know what warning signs to look out for and report them to the necessary veterinarians. At higher levels, zookeepers and animal carers are expected to be able to spot trends in poor health and create a treatment plan.

Administering medication and treatment — adding medication to food may be simple, but there are also much more complex treatments that higher-level zookeepers may need to perform.

More complicated medical procedures — assisting during medical procedures may also be required, such as observing vital signs and handling the animal.


How to care for reptiles

Despite the fact that reptiles love sunbathing, they are surprisingly susceptible to heat-stress. Symptoms in reptiles include lethargy, lack of appetite, and rapid breathing. Reptiles are very attuned and reliant upon the temperature of their environment.

Because of how sensitive reptiles are to heat, zoos often pioneer new technologies that can regulate the temperature. For example, at Paignton Zoo, they welcomed the public-vote named Khaleesi, a Komodo dragon at the end of 2018. As the largest species of lizard in the world, its temperature and basking needs are a little different. With this in mind, the zoo is using a new heating and lighting system that deploys multiple heat sources and lighting spots with different heat levels emitted. The system allows staff to control the temperature at different spots within the enclosure, encouraging Khaleesi to move around the space throughout the day to gain exercise.


How to look after mammals

Mammals are also sensitive to the temperature they’re kept in. For mammals, signs of heat stress can be different than with reptiles: they share the panting, but can also become anxious or start to drool.

Of course, because animals have to be let outside their paddocks regularly for fresh air and more space, it becomes difficult to regulate the temperature between inside and outside. This also makes heating the house difficult and often inefficient, as the building will often have the heating running when no animal is indoors to need it. These heaters would therefore be left running 24 hours a day in the winter, regardless of the animal being present to require it. Movement sensors do not help, as the heaters would turn off when the animal settles down to sleep or stops moving to rest during the day.

Smart-sensor control technology is being trialled in some zoos, which senses the presence of body heat from the animal. If the animal leaves the enclosure to head outside, the heating turns off. If it returns in, even if it isn’t moving during rest, the heater will stay on.

Anyone who wants to embark upon a career working with animals will gain a deep understanding of how temperature effects animals in various ways. You’ll want to knuckle down on your science studies to achieve this! It’s not just about understanding the need for animal conservation and protection; you must learn how to provide it.

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