Ask a Zookeeper: How Many Animals?


Happy ZOOsday, everyone! As many of you know, I am the Zookeeper-in-Residence on Jobstr.com--a website where "you can ask people anything about their jobs and answer questions about yours." I reprint one of my favorite "Ask a Zookeeper" questions on my blog every Tuesday, and you can ask your own question HERE!

Here is this week's question:

Q. How many animals do you have in a typical zoo, and how many people are needed to take care of a zoo this size? -Royce

Photo Courtesy of wwarby
A: Hi Royce! I wish there were a simple answer for this question, but there is so much variation between zoos that it's nearly impossible to make a generalization. In terms of staffing, it is also important to take into account what kind of animals each facility has. (Two elephants require way more trainers than 10 turtles, for instance.)

Off the top of my head, I know that the San Diego Zoo (a very big and impressive facility) has more than 4,000 animals, but the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has more than 32,500. Many of the Aquarium's animals are tiny invertebrates and fish, so the number doesn't tell you nearly as much as you would initially think.

Using specific examples from my background, I have independently cared for about 25 animals during one shift. Some of these animals were small and easy like baby quails, but some were big and high-maintenance like eagles.

I worked in another facility where 15-17 dolphins were taken care of by 6-9 trainers and interns, so staffing definitely depends on the specific animal species. It also depends on each zoo's vision and approach to behavioral enrichment and training. (The more staff we have on hand, the more time we can dedicate to the "fun stuff" like making enrichment for our animals and leading training sessions!)