We all know you have to be a big animal lover to go into a field such as zoology and animal care. This isn’t the only factor however, there are many fields of knowledge you may not have considered that are integral to the job. Learning the scientific details of animal care will take a lot of study, but the rewards will be great. Whether you approach this field through a university degree or learn on the job, you will need to consider the technological and biological side to providing the best possible care for our furry friends, so prepare yourself for a lot of hard work!
Some important areas of study that will help prepare you for your career are:
- 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, you should be prepared the study subjects outside the realms of zoology, such as:
- Areas that may help with presentation and confidence in public speaking, such as Drama, can be a useful secondary subject
Read on to learn about some different elements to working with animals that you may have not yet considered…
Regulating the temperature of habitats
Animals can be extremely picky about the temperature of their home. Without a comfortable temperature, 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.
As hard as you might try to replicate the outside world, an enclosure in a zoo is never going to perfectly mirror an animal’s natural habitat. The enclosure must therefore be adapted to suit a number of needs, such as humidity, ventilation, and temperature control.
Keeping an eye on health and happiness
Some of the animals that come under your care will inevitably be unwell and unhappy. 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.
Caring considerations for mammals
Temperature can affect different animal group in different ways. 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.
It can become difficult to regulate temperature when shelter houses have a door open at all times to allow the animals out into their paddocks for fresh air and more space. As well as making heating the house difficult, this can also make it 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.
A more efficient way of regulating the temperature is by using smart-sensor temperature control technology, 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.
The physical and mental wellbeing will be the most important part of your job and understanding how temperature can affect these things I essential. You’ll want to knuckle down on your science studies to achieve this!
Caring considerations for reptiles
Temperature regulation is also incredibly important for the wellbeing of reptiles. Despite loving the sun, reptiles are still 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. Prevention of heat stress is an important consideration, the installation of a suitable air conditioning unit is a great place to start.
New technology around temperature regulation is being tested all the time in zoos. 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.
The importance of diet and nutrition
Different food types have varying effects on animals. 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!
The wide range of nutritional knowledge, that you will need to pursue this career include:
- 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.
Clearly, the need to monitor and understand the effect of temperature on animals is crucial for those looking to pursue a career in animal care. It’s not just about understanding the need for animal conservation and protection; you must learn how to provide it.
All of these factors will need to be carefully considered by anyone wanting to embark upon a career in animal welfare. As long as you know your science, and have a true passion for animals, then a career in this field is sure to be be full of amazing experiences!