As the Teen Programs Coordinator here at the zoo, this is a sentence I hear frequently from teens looking to get involved at the zoo. Zookeeper or vet, vet or zookeeper; teens seem only to be aware of these two options when it comes to having a career in the animal world. It’s a phenomenon I have personal experience with; as a teen growing up with a love of animals, I knew that being a vet wasn’t for me…so I assumed I would be a zookeeper. I knew that being a zookeeper might not afford opportunities to speak with the public or give presentations- things I really enjoyed as a volunteer- but I thought it was the only viable option out there for a teen wanting to work with wildlife.
Now, as a staff member in the Conservation and Education Department, I know that I was mistaken. I now work alongside educators, marketers, grant writers and of course, many hardworking vets and zookeepers (more properly called “animal keepers” these days). I also have the opportunity to meet a variety of people in conservation and wildlife fields, who represent an amazing array of just what you can do in terms of animal-friendly careers. It made me think: if only teens could see this diversity, their minds might be opened to all of the possibilities in wildlife careers. And so, as someone once afflicted with Vet/Zookeeper Limitation Syndrome, I hatched a plan: to have an entire wildlife-related career day for teens, with no zookeepers and no vets.
Hence, Wildlife Careers Day was born! On March 13, 2010, we hosted our 3rd annual Wildlife Careers Day, with over 50 attendees. Teens went to workshops hosted by the Animals Asia Foundation, Red Panda Network, the East Bay Regional Parks District, Ventana Wildlife Society, and the zoo’s own Conservation and Education Department. They learned about jobs as field biologists, paleontologists, naturalists, and conservationists. Perhaps most impressive, they learned about the paths that each speaker took to arrive in their current positions. Brian Williams of the Red Panda Network began as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, and now runs the first and only NGO working to protect this unique species; James Frank of the EBRPD passed out copies of the curriculum vitae he used to get his job as a naturalist. In the end, teens left with an important message: don’t limit yourself! There are so many careers in this ever-expanding field that, as Williams said himself, “anything you think you might want to do as a job, you can do.” Indeed, now more than ever, it is so important that young people choose to pursue an environmentally sound career. In my position, I know that I make a difference for wildlife around the world; seeing 50 pairs of eyes focusing on the same goal makes me profoundly hopeful for the future.
Still think you might like to be a zookeeper or vet? Don’t worry- these are still important and rewarding jobs! We’ll host another career event all about these two professions in October.