Zoo section leader

A zoo section leader


Zoo section leaders are responsible for managing and leading a team of zoo keepers. They will carry out daily care and management of animals as well as, in cooperation with colleagues, long term management and organisation of the species and exhibits in their section. They are also accountable for various aspects of staff management for the keepers in their section. Depending on the size of the zoo and animal section they may have additional responsibility for appointing staff and budgeting.

Zoo section leaders typically do the following:

  • Maintain animal department safe systems of work in line with the standard operating procedures.
  • Responsible for animal department health and safety, including daily, weekly, and monthly health and safety audits and checklists of all enclosures and animal team.
  • Ensure full compliance in relation to animal welfare, hygiene standards, zoo licencing, and national requirements.
  • Create and oversee animal department maintenance scheduling, routine and as needed.
  • Support the Zoo and Education manager in overseeing zoo licencing, and national compliance.
  • Work with the Zoo and Education manager to schedule routine health checks, testing, vaccination schedules etc. with the site veterinarian(s).
  • Work with site veterinarian(s), Zoo and Education manager, and the Curator to ensure animal welfare standards are maintained and site audits are routinely conducted.
  • Ensure animal team is trained, signed off and in full compliance of all company policies.
  • Oversee delivery of animal experiences to include scheduled feedings and zookeeper talk times, meet- and – greets, birthday party add-ons, school group curriculum and tours.
  • Lead the animal team to deliver a fantastic visitor experience.
  • Drive positive visitor feedback on all online social media channels.
  • Deal with guest enquiries, feedback, and complaints regarding animal department and education programming in a timely manner.
  • Resolve complaints and address any underlying and/or ongoing issues.
  • Ensure the site is clean, tidy, and well presented.
  • Complete all daily, weekly, and monthly administration and reporting as directed and required by the Zoo and Education manager, Curator, and General manager.
  • Deliver educational programming content and curriculum per zoo licencing requirements.
  • Assist Zoo and Education manager to create, maintain, introduce conservation initiatives per zoo licencing requirements.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to zoo section leader:

team leader – large mammals
section leader – great apes
team leader – African section
senior zookeeper
lead zoo keeper
team leader – great apes
head of section
section leader
senior zoo keeper
senior keeper
section leader – aquarium
senior aquarist
zoo team leader
team leader
team leader – aquarium
zoo section head

Minimum qualifications

Zoo section leaders usually have have proven practical experience of working with a range of animals within a zoological collection. They hold qualifications to degree level in zoology or a related subject, and a full driving licence.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Zoo section leader is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Zoo section leader career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to zoo section leader.

poultry breeder
dog breeder
fur animals breeder
bee breeder

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of zoo section leader. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of zoo section leader with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

zoo curator
animal hydrotherapist
animal massage therapist
animal embryo transfer technician
animal artificial insemination technician

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of zoo section leader.

  • Signs of animal illness: Physical, behavioural and environmental signs of health and ill health in various animals.
  • Animal nutrition: Aspects of how different animal species are fed and provided water. Different types of animal food, the quality criteria for animal food and methods to feed and give water to animals.
  • Animal welfare: Universally recognized animal welfare needs as applied to species, situation and occupation. These are:
    • need for a suitable environment
    • need for a suitable diet
    • need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
    • need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
    • need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
  • Applied zoology: The science of applying animal anatomy, physiology, ecology, and behaviour in a particular practical context.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of zoo section leader.

  • Assess management of animals: Evaluate the management of a wide range of animals including the care, welfare and housing environment of animals in a zoo, wildlife park, stable, farm or animal research facility.
  • Control animal movement: Direct, control or restrain some or part of an animal’s, or a group of animals’, movement.
  • Assist in general veterinary medical procedures: Assist veterinarians by preparing both the animal and the equipment for medical procedures, and providing care and support to the animal undergoing a medical procedure.
  • Organise zoological exhibitions: Organise zoological exhibitions and the display of live animals and zoological collections.
  • Lead a team: Lead, supervise and motivate a group of people, in order to meet the expected results within a given timeline and with the foreseen resources in mind.
  • Manage animal biosecurity: Plan and use appropriate biosafety measures to prevent transmission of diseases and ensure effective overall biosecurity. Maintain and follow biosecurity procedures and infection control when working with animals, including recognising potential health issues and taking appropriate action, communicating site hygiene control measures and biosecurity procedures, as well as reporting to others.
  • Coordinate events: Lead events by managing budget, logistics, event support, security, emergency plans and follow up.
  • Provide nutrition to animals: Provide food and water to animals. This includes preparing food and water for animals and reporting any changes in the animal feeding or drinking habits.
  • Provide an enriching environment for animals: Provide an enriching environment for animals to allow the expression of natural behaviour, and including adjusting environmental conditions, delivering feeding and puzzle exercises, and implementing manipulation, social, and training activities.
  • Assess animal nutrition: Assess the nutrition status of animals, diagnose dietary imbalances and prescribe correction.
  • Maintain equipment: Regularly inspect and perform all required activities to maintain the equipment in functional order prior or after its use.
  • Provide first aid to animals: Administer emergency treatment to prevent deterioration of the condition, suffering and pain until veterinary assistance can be sought. Basic emergency treatment needs to be done by non-veterinarians prior to first-aid provided by a veterinarian. Non-veterinarians providing emergency treatment are expected to seek treatment by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Manage work: Supervise, instruct and plan work for teams or individual members of the team. Set up time schedules and make sure they are followed.
  • Follow zoo safety precautions: Follow the zoo safety rules and regulations in order to ensure a safe working environment while working with the zoo animals, and to ensure the safety of zoo visitors.
  • Chair a meeting: Chairing a meeting for a group of people, in order to formulate plans and decisions that are carried out by the company.
  • Provide opportunities for animals to express natural behaviour: Be aware of the natural behaviour of animals and adapt captive environments to encourage this behaviour. This may involve changes to environments, diets, group compositions, husbandry routines etc.
  • Assess environment of animals: Evaluate the domain of the animal including the quantification of ventilation, space and living quarters and measure them against the “five freedoms”: freedom from hunger or thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour, freedom from fear and distress.
  • Maintain professional records: Produce and maintain records of work performed.
  • Maintain animal accommodation: Make sure animal enclosures such as habitats, terrariums, cages or kennels are in the appropriate and hygienic condition. Clean the enclosure and provide new bedding material if called for.
  • Fix meetings: Fix and schedule professional appointments or meetings for clients or superiors.
  • Manage animal hygiene: Plan and use appropriate hygiene measures to prevent transmission of diseases and ensure an effective overall hygiene. Maintain and follow hygiene procedures and regulations when working with animals, communicate site hygiene controls and protocols to others. Manage the safe disposal of waste according to destination and local regulations.
  • Care for juvenile animals: Assess the needs of the offspring and juvenile animals. Take appropriate action without delay in case of problems with the health of the offspring or juvenile.
  • Delegate activities: Delegate activities and tasks to others according to the ability, level of preparation, competence and legal scope of practice. Make sure that people understand what they should do and when they should do it.
  • Manage a team: Ensure clear and effective channels of communication across all departments within the organisation and support functions, both internally and externally ensuring that the team is aware of the standards and objectives of the department/business unit. Implement the disciplinary and grievance procedures as required ensuring that a fair and consistent approach to managing performance is consistently achieved. Assist in the recruitment process and manage, train and motivate employees to achieve/exceed their potential using effective performance management techniques. Encourage and develop a team ethic amongst all employees.
  • Monitor the welfare of animals: Monitor animals’ physical condition and behaviour and report any concerns or unexpected changes, including signs of health or ill-health, appearance, condition of the animals’ accommodation, intake of food and water and environmental conditions.
  • Assess animal behaviour: Observe and evaluate the behaviour of animals in order to work with them safely and recognise deviations from normal behaviour that signal compromised health and welfare.
  • Administer specific drugs to facilitate breeding: Administer specific drugs for synchronisation of breeding cycles to animals in accordance with veterinary and owner instructions. This includes the safe use and storage of drugs and equipment and record keeping.
  • Manage zoo staff: Manage zoo staff, including zoo keeping staff at all levels and/or veterinarians and/or educators and/or horticulturalists.
  • Promote animal welfare: Promote good practice and work with compassion to sustain and promote high standards of animal welfare at all times by adapting personal behaviour and managing environmental factors.
  • Administer treatment to animals: Administer animal medical interventions, including the treatments performed, medicines used, and assessments of the state of health.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of zoo section leader. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Manage budgets: Plan, monitor and report on the budget.
  • Design training programmes for animals: Assess the training needs of the animal and select appropriate methods and activities to meet training objectives.
  • Assist in transportation of animals: Assist with the transportation of animals, including the loading and unloading of animals, the preparation of the transport vehicle, and maintaining the wellbeing of the animal throughout the transport process.
  • Conduct ecological research: Conduct ecological and biological research in the field and in controlled conditions, using scientific methods and equipment.
  • Organise training: Make the necessary preparations to conduct a training session. Provide equipment, supplies and exercise materials. Ensure the training runs smoothly.
  • Manage the transportation of animals: Plan and operate processes involved in the transportation of animals. This includes planning activities such as selecting the form of transportation, planning the route, and preparing documentation. It also encompasses preparation activities undertaken prior to transportation, such as completing paperwork and labelling, and selecting and preparing the appropriate transport container according to the species, age, weight, and number of animals, the duration of the journey, and the food and water requirements.
  • Train animals: Train animals to facilitate their routine husbandry, for treatment, and/or public demonstrations.
  • Speak about your work in public: Speak about your work to different kinds of audiences. Illustrate aspects depending on the audience and the occasion.
  • Create safe working protocols: Create clear, accountable, safe working protocols according to recognised zoo guidelines.

ISCO group and title

5164 – Pet groomers and animal care workers

  1. Zoo section leader – ESCO
  2. Featured image: By Tiia Monto, CC BY-SA 3.0
Last updated on November 28, 2022

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