Exotic Animal Training Career Options and Requirements
Exotic animal trainers teach and train wild animals at animal parks and other facilities. Many employers prefer to hire animal trainers who have a degree, as well as experience working in direct contact with animals.
Exotic animal trainers work in places where animals perform for the public, such as zoos, animal parks and aquariums. Additionally, some trainers find work in the entertainment industry, training animals as performers for television and movies.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that both nonfarm animal caretakers and animal trainers would see faster-than-average employment growth of 15% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). In 2013, the BLS reported an annual median salary of $25,320 for animal trainers, with those working in the independent artists, writers and performers industry earning the highest average salaries of $60,890.
Although a high school diploma or the equivalent is sufficient for some animal trainer positions, the BLS notes that employers may prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. Some programs, like a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Animal Science or B.S. in Zoology, offer courses related to exotic animal care, wildlife biology, animal behavior, wildlife conservation and genetics. Some associate's degree programs also offer courses in exotic animal care that may be transferable to a 4-year program.
Employers also emphasize background experience, which can be accumulated through volunteer opportunities, college internships or work-study options. Many zoos and aquariums have established volunteer and internship programs. Other experience opportunities can be found at wildlife rescue organizations, ranches, equestrian centers or veterinary hospitals.
Depending on the venue, animal trainers may be expected to have strong communication skills to speak in front of large audiences. Job candidates should be physically fit in order to lift large items and training equipment. Marine parks generally require trainers to pass demanding swim tests and be certified in scuba diving.
After being hired, exotic animal trainers may go through apprenticeship work with an experienced trainer, which allows the new trainer to gain first-hand experience with animals and their habits. The training might begin with feeding or other simple procedures and progress to communicating with and training animals.
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