Animal handlers are employed by zoos, aquariums, parks, animal shelters, movie studios, research laboratories, animal breeding facilities, rodeos, and museums. There are about 199,850 nonfarm animal caretakers in the United States.
Depending on the area of animal care in which you want to work, you may be able to find many great opportunities. A high school job or internship is a good start; experience with animals is what is most important to employers hiring handlers. Any volunteering you've done will also look good to an employer because it shows that you have a personal dedication to the care of animals. Kennels, petting zoos, museums, and animal shelters often run job postings on their Web site and on employment Web sites, as well as in the classified sections of newspapers. These positions are frequently available due to the lower pay and some of the hazards involved in handling animals.
Jobs with zoos in major cities, or with animal shows, can be highly competitive. If you're hoping to work in a larger, more famous zoo, you should first pursue experience with a smaller zoo. Jobs working with marine mammals are also difficult to get; because there are few marine animal shows in the country (such as those performed at Sea World parks), you may first have to pursue experience with internships and college programs.
Most people who work with animals are not looking to climb any ladder of advancement. As a matter of fact, many people change from high-paying careers to lower paying animal care jobs just to do something they love. Some who have gained experience handling and training animals may start their own businesses, perhaps building its own stables of trained "actors" to hire out for area movie shoots, stage shows, parades, and other performances. Some animal handlers may pursue higher education while working full or part time, taking courses toward veterinary sciences degrees, or degrees in biology. With a degree, an animal handler may have a better chance at the higher paying, supervisory zookeeper positions. After years with a particular zoo, an animal handler can take on more responsibility and make decisions that influence the direction of the zoo.
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Use social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to stay up to date on industry developments, network, and learn about job openings.
Conduct information interviews with animal handlers and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.