Careers in Zoos and Aquariums

Zoos and aquariums are exciting places to visit and even more exciting places to work. There are a wide variety of veterinary jobs available in each of these settings as animals are in need of constant care and attention. Working with animals in these environments requires specific training, although it can make for a very rewarding career. Getting involved in one of these careers can begin right away as high earning potential and job stability can last a lifetime when choosing a veterinary career in zoos and aquariums.


Veterinary Careers in Zoos

Veterinary duties in a zoo and aquarium requires the medical care of wild and exotic animals. This includes a fair amount of routine and preventative care administered by veterinarians. That includes providing regular exams and prescribing medications. Veterinarians also offer instructions on habitation requirements, restrictions and steps of care.

One of the primary functions for zoo and aquatic veterinarians is to provide emergency care to animals who experience illness or injury. This can require immediate surgery at times, as well as the need to make quick decisions in regards to exotic animals. These types of situations rely on the strength of veterinarians; knowledge and experience as they are considered the experts in providing emergency care on exotic animals. There are often unexpected situations that provide veterinarians with patients in scenarios that are not very conventional ones.

Veterinary technicians assist zoo and aquatic veterinarians in a variety of capacities, much like the work that is done in animal hospitals and veterinary practices. However, the type of animal is different and that requires a prior familiarization. Vet techs are expected to have previous experience working with zoo and aquatic animals.

Zoo and Aquarium Veterinary Salary

Veterinarians who work in zoos and aquariums are considered specialists and their pay rate differs from veterinarians who work in more traditional settings. There are many different reports in terms of how much zoo veterinarians earn an on a yearly basis. The base pay starts out in the low $70,000 range but can increase all the way up to $140,000 annually. The general consensus puts the average salary right around $85,000 per year. Meanwhile, the consensus report on aquatic veterinarians shows an average salary of $88,810, which is right in line with the average veterinarian pay rate. However, there is a lot of earning potential as the top 10% of aquatic veterinarians report an annual income of $142,910 per year. However, these pay rates are adjusted according to experience and work setting.

Veterinary technicians who gain employment at a zoo generally earn a higher annual income that vet techs who work in other kinds of animal health care facilities. A zoo veterinary technician salary averages out to be approximately $45,000 annually, which is higher than the national average for veterinary technicians in general. Aquatic veterinary technicians earn right around the same amount, with an average salary closer to $43,000 per year.

Zoological Veterinary Education

Veterinarians who are interested in working in a zoo are required to complete a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at an accredited veterinary college, which typically follows the completion of a Bachelor’s Degree. Next, a one-year internship is recommended and that is followed by a three-year residency program. There is also a requirement to publish peer-reviewed articles which leads into a rigorous board exam that encompasses two days. Once all of those requirements are met, veterinarians are certified in zoological medicine. A state license is also mandated.

Veterinary Technicians looking to find employment in a zoological setting require a less rigorous path of educational training. The first step is earning an accredited two-year degree in veterinary technology. There are no individual vet tech programs focused solely on zoological medicine as that area of study is covered within the overall curriculum of an accredited veterinary technology program. Following graduation, vet techs must become state certified. Those requirements differ according to each individual state board. In order to begin working at a zoo, vet techs usually need some kind of experience as technicians, which involves working with large or small animals. Some zoos require vet techs to serve as an intern before being offered a full-time position.

Aquatic Veterinary Education

To become an aquatic veterinarian, the path is not as distinct. Four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree programs do not always offer clinical rotations at aquatic facilities. However, there are some that provide aquatic animal health clinical rotations. If this is not an option, then obtaining a specialization in aquatic care will require post-graduate work. Enrolling in a program that offers graduate studies in marine mammal medicine or aquatic animal health is one option. There are various colleges throughout the country offering these kinds of programs. Another option is to enter into an internship at a facility that specializes in aquatic medicine. Experience is a requisite on the way to earning a position practicing aquatic veterinary medicine.

Veterinary technicians looking to work in the field of aquatic medicine should seek out a vet tech program that provides coursework in this particular area. Most veterinary technician coursework involves land animals of the domestic and wild varieties. Furthering one’s education in marine biology is a way of building a strong foundation for aquatic vet techs. Internships and volunteer work in aquatic facilities also strengthens credentials. The same could be said of earning a certification from the American Fisheries Society. Aquatic veterinary technicians also need a state certification under the same guidelines that applies to vet techs working with land animals. But it is also highly recommended to gain as much experience possible in an aquatic setting.

Zoo and Aquarium Employment Locations

Zoo veterinarians can find work outside of zoos and are also employed in museums, aquariums and teaching positions. There is also the option of working for a government organization, laboratory, or in the area of pharmaceutical sales for animals. Meanwhile, aquatic veterinarians often find work at aquariums, research centers, zoos, and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facilities.


American Association of Zoo Veterinarians

This association is committed to the advancement of zoology through education, scientific study and advocacy.

International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine

This association deals with the practice, teaching and research of aquatic animal medicine, while also offering valuable online resources.

Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians

This association provides a wealth of information for veterinary technicians looking to begin or further their career in a zoological setting.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

This association brings together pertinent information and resources related to zoos and aquariums throughout the country.

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association

This association is committed to organizing aquatic educational programs, as well as providing a global platform for the promotion and advancement of aquatic veterinary medicine.