Zoo and Aquarium Curators and Directors


Employment Prospects


There are so few zoos and aquariums in the country, so most positions will be the result of turnover, which is low. While a few new zoos and aquariums may open and others may expand their facilities, the number of new curator and director positions available will be extremely low, particularly compared to the number of interested job seekers. The number of curators and directors employed by each facility depends on the size and budget of the operation and the range of animal types they house.

Starting Out

The position of zoo and aquarium curator and the position of director are not entry-level jobs. Most curators start their careers as zookeepers or aquarists and move up through the animal-management ranks.

Competition for zoo and aquarium jobs is intense but there are several ways to pursue such positions. Getting an education in animal science is a good way to make contacts that may be valuable in a job search. Professors and school administrators often can provide advice and counseling on finding jobs as a curator. The best sources for finding out about career opportunities at zoos and aquariums are trade journals (the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Connect or American Association of Zoo Keepers' Animal Keepers' Forum), the Web sites of specific institutions, and special-focus periodicals. Most zoos and aquariums have internal job postings. A few zoos and aquariums have job lines. People in the profession often learn about openings by word of mouth.

Working on a part-time or volunteer basis at an animal facility could provide an excellent opportunity to improve your eligibility for higher-level jobs in later years. Moving up from supervisory keeper positions to curator and director positions usually involves moving to another institution, often in another city and state. Today's zoo and aquarium directors often began their careers in education, marketing, business, research, and academia as well as animal management.

Advancement Prospects

Curatorial positions are often the top rung of the career ladder for many zoo and aquarium professionals. Curators do not necessarily wish to become zoo or aquarium directors, although the next step for specialized curators is to advance to the position of general curator. Those who are willing to forego direct involvement with animal management and complete the transition to the business of running a zoo or aquarium will set as their ultimate goal the position of zoo or aquarium director. Curators and directors who work for a small facility may aspire to a position at a larger zoo or aquarium, with greater responsibilities and a commensurate increase in pay. Most directors remain at the same institution, reflecting the strong identification of the director with the institution that he or she leads.

Advancing to executive positions requires a combination of experience and education. General curators and zoo directors often have graduate degrees in zoology or in business or finance. Continuing professional education, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' courses in applied zoo and aquarium biology, conservation education, institutional record keeping, population management, and professional management, can be helpful. Attending workshops and conferences sponsored by professional groups or related organizations and making presentations is another means of networking with colleagues from other institutions and professions and becoming better known within the zoo world.

Tips for Entry

Visit https://www.aza.org/jobs and https://aazk.org/job-listings/all for job and internship listings.

Attend the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ annual conference (https://www.aza.org/conferences-meetings) to network, learn about industry trends, and participate in professional development workshops and seminars. 

Contact zoos and aquariums directly to learn more about job opportunities. The AZA offers a database of zoos and aquariums at https://www.aza.org/find-a-zoo-or-aquarium.