My Career Snapshot | Chris Hosking, Program Manager for Captive Animals
by Marianne Stenger
Posted: October 26, 2015
If you’re someone who enjoys being around animals, a career in animal care can be very rewarding, and while there are many opportunities and career pathways to choose from, zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks can be particularly exciting places to work.
But what sort of skills and traits should a zoo-keeper have and what are some of the challenges you can expect when first starting out?
Finding the right career path
Today, Chris manages the animal care courses at Open Colleges and has over thirteen years of experience in the industry, but he wasn’t always sure what he would end up doing.
“To be honest, I wasn’t much of a student at all in high school,” says Chris. “But eventually I realised that reading was the trick in terms of becoming more interested in study, so by the time I was in year 11 I was getting good grades in biology, which was my main love and interest.”
After high school, Chris decided on university and did a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology and Biology, although he still wasn’t sure where it might take him.
“I found myself thriving at university because it was so different from high school,” he says. “By my fourth year, though, I realised that probably I wasn’t going to go anywhere in terms of science or archaeology, so I talked to the work experience office and asked whether I could use their insurance to do work experience.
They said “yes,” so I contacted the Adelaide Zoo where I had volunteered when I was 15, and I started working there as a trainee. That experience really reminded me of what my passions were, and I’ve sort of been dedicated to animals ever since.”
Starting out in the animal care industry
After university, Chris moved to New South Wales where he began working as an interpretive officer at the Australian Museum.
“I actually applied to the Australian Museum because I knew they had live animals there such as lizards, snakes, frogs and lots of insects and spiders,” says Chris. “After a while they saw that I was keen and I was able to take over the live animal program.”
Chris adds that the one of the advantages of working at the museum was that it gave him easy access to information. “If I had questions in terms of doing research about a certain animal, all I had to do was go down on one of the hallways, knock on the door and talk to one of the scientists,” he says.
“But although I had a lot of say in what was happening there, I still felt I needed more of a challenge, especially as I wasn’t qualified yet, so that’s when I did my ACM30310 Certificate III in Captive Animals.”
Advice for animal care students
Chris believes some of the most important attributes zoo-keeping students need are good communication skills and a willingness to learn.
“You need to be someone who is able to communicate effectively with others and has an understanding of what their needs are,” he says.
“Zoo-keepers look after the needs of the animals within the captive institution, which involves feeding, cleaning and providing the requirements for breeding, but they also need to communicate with other members of staff and the public.”
A willingness to learn and build up skills over time is also important because as a zoo-keeper you’ll never really stop learning.
“Even once you’re qualified, things change in terms of biology,” says Chris. “For instance, a new study might come out about better ways to house alligators, so being in touch with the rest of the zoo-keeping community and being able to learn, observe, and make changes is important.”
Challenges for students in the animal care industry
Chris points out that one obstacle students may face when first starting out is the perceived scarcity of jobs, but he also emphasises that if a student is willing to be flexible and take the experience he or she can get, there are plenty of opportunities.
“Let’s say that you really want to work with big cats,” he says. “The local wildlife parks may not have any big cats, but if they need, say, a junior keeper who looks after the bird collection, by taking that job, you can build up experience, and then after a few years, you can move on to what you really want to do.
So by not being too specific about the animals you work with, eventually you can end up actually working with the animals that you want.
When I was at Adelaide Zoo, I worked with every group of animals except for reptiles, then in my first paid job, I only worked with reptiles, while in the job after that, I was inundated with insects and spiders and all that kind of stuff. So unless you’re willing to go outside your comfort zone, you’ll never know what kind of opportunities are out there.”
Are you interested in a career in zoo-keeping? Find out more about our captive animal courses here or get in touch with one of our enrolment consultants for more details. Or click on the links to learn more about ACM40210 Certificate IV in Captive Animals or ACM30310 Certificate III in Captive Animals.