Careers Working with Exotic Animals: Job Options and Requirements

Those trained in the handling and care of exotic animals can qualify for a number of professions. Career choices include a focus on a specific type of animal or general services for a range of exotic animals. The requirements vary based on an individual's particular career goals.

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Careers that Work with Exotic Animals

Animal Trainer

Exotic animal trainers work in a number of industries, including training animals for film, entertainment and education. These professionals can work closely with a variety of species or develop skills for a particular animal. Depending on an individuals' training, they can work with large or small aquatic, aviary, plains or woodland animals. Trainers might spend long hours performing repetitive tasks on a rewards-based system and accompany an animal if travel is required.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected job growth rate for animal care and service workers is 23% for the 2010-2020 decade (www.bls.gov). Animal trainers earned a median annual salary of $25,270 as of May 2012, the BLS further reports.

Veterinarian

Exotic animal veterinarians typically provide the same level of care as a regular veterinarian, but have specialized training to handle wild or exotic animals. These veterinarians might include household pets within their practice, in addition to exotic birds, reptiles and mammals. A veterinarian can work in a variety of settings, including animal hospitals, zoos, private clinics or at various on-site locations. Exotic animal veterinarians could also work in the scientific field, conducting experiments and performing research on endangered or unusual species.

Employment growth for veterinarians, which includes those that treat exotic animals, is expected to be 36% between 2010-2020, says the BLS. As of the May 2012 BLS report, the median annual salary for veterinarians is $84,460.

Zookeeper

Zookeepers keep wild and exotic animals fed, healthy and clean. They can work in a number of places, such as zoos and animal parks. Their jobs can be dirty and sometimes dangerous, and they might need to work in challenging weather conditions at times. Zookeepers need to be familiar with the history, ecology and behavior of exotic animals to be able to provide education to zoo visitors.

The BLS employment growth rate for animal care and service workers stated above would be applicable to zookeepers. In December 2013, PayScale.com reported that the median annual salary for zookeepers was $28,301.

Requirements for Jobs Working with Exotic Animals

Educational Requirements

Several schools offer college programs that provide a foundation for jobs working with exotic animals. Some bachelor's degree programs in animal science or zoology include concentrations in exotic animal studies within the major. Students could learn about different animal behaviors, genetics, nutrition and ecology. Elective coursework might cover breeding, genetics and fundamental health issues.

Those seeking to become a veterinarian must complete a 4-year bachelor's degree program and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Some DVM programs include concentrated studies or elective coursework for health care, diseases, treatments and nutritional care for exotic animals. Exotic veterinary hospitals also offer residency programs for those interested in specializing in the discipline.

Licensure Requirements

Most veterinarians must obtain state licensure to practice medicine on domestic, farm and exotic animals. State regulations vary, though all require a DVM degree and a passing score on the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Some federal and state laws also require licensure for keeping, transporting, selling or exhibiting exotic animals. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture registers and licenses scientists who conduct experiments on several types of animals.

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