A zoo education manager is responsible for deploying the curriculum for a zoological institute to the public in an informative and enjoyable way, and works to curate and manage exhibits.
Part of the role of a zoo is to impart knowledge to visitors, as well as to entertain families and children. The staff are not just animal keepers, but zoological specialists whose job it is to understand the species under their care, manage their habitat and wellbeing, and communicate information on the plethora of species to visitors of the zoo. The Zoo’s education manager is responsible for designing the curriculum, which includes information posted around the site, the programme for interactive events and shows, and liaising with other educational facilities (zoos, universities and schools) to increase visitor numbers and the quality of education gained during the visit. They work to acquire animals and supervise their introduction into the zoo.
Information about the various species needs to be communicated to visitors in a way that they can understand. Depending on the type of exhibit, the communication may need to be detailed and informative, or perhaps in the case of a small petting zoo targeted at children, with easily-digestible snippets they can remember or write in school books. The balance of the animal “portfolio” under the care of the zoo is handled by the manager. As well as functioning as the zoo’s educational curator, the education manager must also work with other departments to improve the range of offering, the wellbeing of the animals and the quality of the visitor experience as a whole.
Salaries within the zoological sector, outside the academic posts, have typically been quite poor but the role of education manager also demands a formal degree, and so the salary is better than most. For educational zoological institutions in the United Kingdom, the average starting salary for a zoo education manager can be as low as £20,818, although the average for a second year placement is £31,454 per year depending on variations on the exact curatorial/educational position and areas of responsibility. This may increase to £43,596 per year with experience and favourable performance on the part of the candidate.
- Design a plan of education (curriculum) for deployment to zoo visitors
- Assist with planning of dietary maintenance and medical care
- Exercise planning and provision for wellbeing of the animals
- Planning and design of enclosure and ground layouts
- Liaise with other educational institutions to increase visitor numbers and quality of education
- Manage in-house captive breeding programmes
- Organise exchanges and transfers with other zoos, “acquisition” and feasibility studies
- Oversee the introduction of new animals into existing enclosures
- Compose copy for information material (signs, CD-ROMs, displays)
- Organise transport for animals being transferred
- Manage a large number of staff under direct and indirect supervision of the Department of Education
A high level of education is required for candidates who wish to become education managers because it is essential they are able to express their own understanding in a manner which others can absorb. The first step after school or sixth-form college is a university degree. Candidates will typically tend to look at courses focussing on cell biology, conservation biology, zoology or ecology. After this, the candidate may join a zoo in an educational capacity, but to actually have ownership and make decisions on the zoo’s own teaching curriculum will usually require a doctorate, which typically represents several years of intensive study at university.
- Have a desire to work with a range of animals or a specific type and breed of wild animal
- Develop a rounded understanding of conservation and animal biology
- Understand how best to serve the public’s desire or capacity to absorb knowledge on the various species
- Be able to plan a large number of department projects and manage rotas and diaries
- Have a flexible approach to work, be a team player and be able to arrange cover during absence
- Be prepared to work long or unsociable hours, weekends and public holidays
- Have an academic mind and be open to embracing opportunities for additional study
- Be prepared to travel internationally when dealing with acquisition and medical care of the animals
Although generally an educational/managerial-type role, the education manager has a high level of exposure to animals under the care of the zoo. This means the working environment can span the whole spectrum of dealing with dangerous life on earth, from lions, tigers, gorillas and crocodiles through to poisonous lizards and snakes. Much of the education manager’s time is spent either travelling (around the site, or to other zoos) or in the office, but there are long periods of time when they face exposure to cold, dirty and uncomfortable conditions. The education manager must have a flexible outlook and be prepared to deal with a variety of hands-on situations involving any type of rare or dangerous species. The role is also intensely public-facing, so the education manager should have a desire to work with people and a desire to understand what motivates and pleases them.
Due to the academic nature of the profession, it is possible for candidates to join zoological societies as education managers straight after their doctorate. The learning curve is steep though, and many opt for a year overseas working in a lesser education administration role to develop their work ethic and field of expertise. This is a job where the candidate will never finish learning, and increasing exposure to a variety of situations, species and educational environments is essential in stimulating Continuous Professional Development (CPD), a sign of the candidate’s commitment to consistently growing their skill set and level of understanding.
It is possible for education managers to join smaller zoological institutions with a Bachelor’s degree, and then take on and learn the additional range of responsibilities in order to progress to the role of education manager. This course of action is rare though, and most begin in the role as a Doctor of Biology or Conservation. Education mangers with several years’ experience have a wide variety of opportunities within this very broad general science, and may partake in overseas placements, university lecturing, chairing a board for a zoological preservation society, or being called on as an industry expert to partake in a television interview.
Education managers will typically work with zoos or zoological institutes, which may be small organisations specialising with a single species type, all the way up to internationally recognised centres containing thousands of different animals.
In the UK, the largest and most well-known large zoos are Chester Zoo (Cheshire), Whipsnade Wild Animal Park (Bedfordshire), Colchester Zoo (Essex), Twycross Zoo (Warwickshire), Dudley Zoo (Birmingham), Longleat Safari Park (Wiltshire) and ZSL London Zoo (London). All of these zoological centres offer a means of contacting them relatively easily via their web sites, and most have a page dedicated to careers, learning and volunteering.
Also known as…
- Zoo curator of education
- Dean of zoological institute
- Animal trainer
- Animal handler
What’s it really like?
Jim Knox is Zoo Education Manager at Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut in the United States, where he manages the zoo’s teaching curriculum, animal acquisition and deployment of education.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
My love of wildlife, and my desire to help a multitude of species worldwide. I also feel privileged to be able to continue to learn as I go, and to have the opportunity to pass that knowledge on to other equally enthusiastic people.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise’?
Not even close! Our schedule is dynamic and adaptive due to the fact we work with living creatures. With that said, we must provide husbandry care on all days, veterinary care most days and operational administration for the facility (Zoo) every day. As much of the work I do is also as Curator of Education, I teach classes and present programmes to a wide spectrum of audiences nearly every day.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
With an animal collection of more than 500 animals, we must often contend with at least one or two animal health issues daily. I must also contend with frequent staffing shortages. We host more than 280,000 guests each year. Our Zoo staff must respond to emergencies (bee stings, fractures, fainting) all year round, and our department is ultimately responsible for making sure this all works.
What do you like most about the job?
Teaching/sharing my love of wildlife with people of all ages, and allowing them to develop that passion for themselves.
What do you like least about the job?
Staffing, budgeting, and zoological board meetings – anything that basically moves you away from either working with the animals directly, or passing on knowledge to people who want to learn.
What are the key responsibilities?
In the case of Beardsley Zoo, I deal with animal care, payroll, staffing, budgeting, grant writing and teaching.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?
A minimum of a Bachelor’s degree (typically in a life science or education).
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
Approximately $45,000 / year (£27,522) for a curatorial/educational position. This may increase to $55,000 / year (£33,639) with experience and favourable performance on the part of the candidate.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
I’d encourage them to embark on this career for their love of wildlife, not for money. You don’t amass wealth working in this field. Also, don’t enter this field with the expectation you will not work with people. You must work more closely with people in this field than most, due to the cooperative animal care and teaching aspects of the job. It’s definitely a hands-on, people-orientated job.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
Intelligence, fitness and a passion for the nature of the work. These three things will breed their own enthusiasm, and then it is important to keep learning. It’s an incredibly rewarding career; I would not wish to do anything else.