Thank you for your interest in learning more about Roger Williams Park Zoo! As you know, our zookeepers and staff are very busy caring for the animals. So, due to the large volume of project and homework assistance requests we receive, we unfortunately don't have the time to answer them all. We hope that you can utilize this webpage as a guide throughout your research. If you have general questions regarding the history of Roger Williams Park Zoo please click here.
Lots of information can be found on the Zoo’s website, specifically in the Frequently Asked Questions section (below) and provided links.
Attend an animal keeper talk! Keeper talks occur daily at 11:30 am. Each day focuses on a different animal in a different habitat. Check our Facebook page for daily updates. Come prepared with two or three questions for our zookeepers; they will be happy to assist you.
Students are always welcome to complete projects and homework assignments from the Zoo’s public areas with the purchase of regular admission. Each Zoo exhibit includes an animal information sign that can be very helpful as you conduct your research.
Please read this page thoroughly, for additional homework assistance other than what is listed:
Written questionnaires may be submitted here
Roger Williams Park Zoo's animal collection includes over 160 rare and fascinating animals, representing more than 100 species from around the world.
Roger Williams Park Zoo has 29 animal keepers and 2 vet technicians. Animal keeper positions can be found in a variety of departments such as animal collections, nutritional services, animal health and animal outreach.
Roger Williams Park Zoo does not provide keeper shadowing or behind-the-scenes opportunities for school projects or homework assignment. However, the Zoo does have internship opportunities throughout the year, from veterinary and animal care to education, and more.
If your project requires an interview of a Zoo keeper or other staff member, please read the Roger Williams Park Zoo staff interviews (below).
If you're in Elementary School:
- Take a trip to your local zoo, aquarium or natural history museum - it's never too early to start learning!
- Read books and magazines, watch nature shows on TV and visit websites on natural history, wildlife and related topics.
- Will your parents allow you to keep a pet? Taking care of a dog, cat, fish or other small animal can teach you a lot about responsible animal care.
- Join your school's science clubs, participate in scouting activities or find educational programs at your local zoo or aquarium.
- Go outside - observe wildlife from your own backdoor.
- Attend ZooCamp!
If you're in Secondary School:
- Begin preparing for your zoo career! Continue to read about animals, observe them, and associate yourself with other "animal" people and organizations.
- Tell your middle school or high school guidance counselors that you're interested in pursuing an animal-related career. They'll help you choose the right classes to help prepare you for further education in college.
- If you're old enough to get a part-time job, consider working or volunteering at a local animal shelter, veterinary hospital, horse stable, Zoo or aquarium. This kind of work can help you gain valuable experience that could be helpful in a zoo career. For more information on the Roger Williams Park Zoo's volunteer opportunities, click on volunteer.
If you're in College:
- Take courses in fields that will prepare you to be a zookeeper, such as life sciences, biology, animal science, natural resource management, veterinary medicine, environmental studies, etc.
- Get a part-time job or internship in an animal-related facility, including vet hospitals, wildlife rehabilitation centers, zoos or aquariums.
- Probably the most important factor in being hired into a zookeeper job is the amount of on the job experience you have working with exotic animals. Rarely does anyone (no matter what their education is) get their first paid full-time position without have some sort of work experience to back up their knowledge.
- For more information on the Roger Williams Park Zoo's internship opportunities, click on internship.
What works for one animal may or may not work with another animal. When we provide enrichment activities and items to our animals, we first and foremost have to make sure that it’s safe for them. So before we provide our animals enrichment items, we need to have a solid understanding of what they will and will not tolerate.
Examples of specific enrichment items we use at the Zoo include:
- Scent enrichment: Perfumes, spices, novel food items, hair from other animals, urine
- Visual enrichment: Mirrors (outside the cage), hanging mobiles outside the cage, etc.
- Tactile: Balls made of hard plastic, rootballs of trees, different substrates (hay, shavings, browse, etc.)
- Foraging: Hide food, puzzle feeders, boxes, paper mache, etc.
- Furniture: Logs, boulders, etc. These allow animals to climb or hide behind.
"Today’s zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have accepted a leadership role in preserving Earth’s tapestry for today and for future generations. And that leadership challenge is not a burden. It is a joy."
Roger Williams Park Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and is home to many endangered species. As a result, the Zoo participates in cooperative conservation and breeding programs to help ensure the future survival of many endangered species. The Zoo is the recipient of numerous awards for conservation work done both locally and around the globe - making us a leader in conservation.
Check out this great article by Perth Zoo on why Zoos play an important role.
1. What led you to choose this specific job?
I had been pre-vet in college with the intention to work as a large animal horse vet. However, my chemistry grades were dismal and as I went along my course of study I realized I wasn’t really interested in animal medicine. I was interested in working in animal husbandry. I moved to Florida and started working at Disney as the Animal Kingdom park was opening. From there I set my sights on becoming an animal keeper and worked my way into a keeper position. In the years since I’ve worked a couple of different zoos across the country, but New England is home.
2. Where there any major factors in your decision?
What was important to me was to have a job where I could work with animals on a daily basis and to make a difference in the lives of those animals. I see zoo animals as having an important role to play in our society as a key factor in raising awareness for conservation education. It’s vitally important for zoo visitors to connect with these animals and the best way they can do it is to see the animals that are well cared for and who’s psychological well being is looked after. It was something I wanted to be a part of.
3. What do you love most about your job? What makes you want to keep going back everyday?
Being a steward for the animals in my care. There’s nothing I like more than making a good home for them, making sure they’re healthy and comfortable. And there are so many aspects to that so it keeps you very busy.
4. What is the hardest part about your job?
The obvious answer to this is saying goodbye to animals; either when you send them to other zoos for breeding requests of when the pass on. It’s difficult to have that happen.
The other, less obvious, is that this is a very physically demanding job that can be lower paying than jobs that require a similar level of education and field experience. Zookeepers have to learn to live on a budget for most of their lives. That can be tough over time. They also often have to move across the country and far from family to get that first paid job.
5. What requirements did you have to meet before starting this job? What classes did you take in college?
Many zoos require a 2 or 4 year degree in some form of life sciences (biology, animal science, zoology, etc.). But they also usually want to have some volunteer/intern experience in a zoo setting. I actually managed to get a job without having had an internship, but I’m the exception rather than the norm. Instead, I gained experience in the education department and then the commissary (where all the animal food is prepared) before being accepted into a paid apprenticeship.
In college I majored in animal science with a focus on pre-vet and equine studies.
6. What is your favorite animal to work with and why?
It changes. I started as a primate keeper so my comfort zone would be primates and I have a very strong fondness for mandrills and pygmy marmosets. Mandrills were the first zoo animal I worked with and they have a really dynamic social system. I love how intricate and challenging they can be. Pygmy marmosets are so different than mandrills but they have just as much chutzpah. I love their fierce attitude, despite the fact that they only weigh 130 grams.
But, I also have come to love working with birds and other small mammals as well. It’s too hard to pick just one.
7. What is a typical day like at the zoo for you?
I’m now a manager, so I don’t have a typical day. But when I was a keeper I would meet with my team to discuss what was happening in the area (vet procedures, keeper talk assignments, training, etc). Then you go to your assigned “run” to do the daily husbandry. Check you animals, feed, medicate (if animals under medical care), train and lots of cleaning. Exhibit and holding areas need to be completely cleaned daily. Set up enrichment at different times during the day. Afternoons were times to catch up on area projects, training and enrichment. Then at the end of the day, another round of feeding, meds, enrichment and settling animals in holding or with access to the exhibit for the night.
8. How stressful would you say this career is?
It’s 95% routine and 5% total chaos. I don’t think the day-to-day stuff is very stressful, but there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate. The hard parts are emergencies like veterinary issues, birthing gone wrong, etc. If you’re not organized or a good time manager, then you can lose control of your day and that can cause stress. It’s definitely less stressful the longer you work at it. I used to go home at night worrying if I completed everything I should. And it’s scary to think that you could kill someone by leaving the wrong lock unlocked. You do a lot of double and triple checking yourself.
9. What is the time commitment of your day?
Most of us work an 8 hour day, but with the understanding that if there’s an emergency we may need to stay longer.
10. Did you always think/know you would be working in a zoo?
No I didn’t. I had intended to work with horses all through college. It wasn’t until I started working at Animal Kingdom that I knew I wanted to be a keeper.