Zoo veterinary medicine represents a specialized field within veterinarian medicine. Zoo veterinary technicians specialize in assisting with the practice of such medicine. Specifically, they assist in caring for exotic animal species living in captivity. Such practitioners may care for animals such as lions, tigers, elephants, and other exotic or endangered species. Zoo vet techs may focus on a particular class of animals or specialize still further and work exclusively with a certain species.

Given the focus on working with exotic species that often can only be found in zoos, zoo vet techs may experience greater workplace risks compared to veterinarian technicians working in other environments. For example, exposure to extremes of temperature and humidity may be common for those working as zoo vet techs. Cleaning products specifically used for the environments of animals held in long-term captivity may be harsher than household agents. Furthermore, given how wild animals may have a wider variety of diseases than domesticated animals, zoo vet techs may need higher levels of vaccination and apply enhanced protective measures to work in zoo environments to protect themselves against zoonotic disease.

Zoo vet techs’ daily responsibilities vary. They may assist with a variety of standard and emergency procedures such as teeth cleaning, radiology, medication administration, use of IV catheters and the use of anesthesia to prepare animals for surgical interventions. As zoos may also serve as homes for endangered species, zoo vet techs may need to assist with other procedures uncommon in other environments where vet techs work. For example, the use of ultrasonography in work with endangered species may make learning this skill of value to those seeking to work as zoo vet techs.

Career Outlook for Zoo Vet Techs

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) predicts the field of veterinary medicine will continue to grow. The number of veterinary technologist and technician jobs was estimated to be 122,800 in 2021; 24,100 new positions are expected to be created nationally between 2021 and 2031, representing a 20 percent increase.

While this information is not specific to the work of zoo vet techs, the growth of the entire veterinary medicine industry should also benefit those seeking to pursue this specialization.

Interest in the zoo veterinary medicine specialty may actually also increase as an unexpected impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the potentially catastrophic impacts of a zoonotic pandemic, as the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, heightened interest in effective biodiversity conservation and wildlife trade practices may ultimately spur more individuals to pursue training to practice veterinarian medicine to protect both animals and the human population.

Zoo Vet Tech Salary Data

According to ZipRecruiter (2022), the average annual salary for zoo veterinary technicians across the United States was $35,899. As noted in the first table below, most zoo vet techs can expect to earn an annual salary between $23,500 and $44,000. Opportunities for advancement that may ultimately lead to an increase in salary vary by region and existing experience level.

ZipRecruiter further notes that the ten cities with the highest salaries for zoo vet techs are all located in the states of California, Alaska, and Virginia. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (2022), every one of these cities (except for Alexandria, VA) is located in a state with a relatively high cost of living. Though Virginia does not have an exceptionally high cost of living, the city of Alexandria, being a part of the Washington, DC metro area, does feature a cost of living higher than much of the state of Virginia.

Those considering this career pursuit should thus compare prospective salaries against the cost of living in a certain geographic market to determine what purchasing power they would ultimately have.

Source: ZipRecruiter (2022)
Average annual salary $35,899
25th percentile $23,500
50th percentile (median) $35,899
75th percentile $44,000
90th percentile $57,500

It is important to highlight the distinction between a zoo veterinarian technician and a zoo veterinarian. Zoo veterinarians, as noted in the table below, earn a considerably higher salary than technicians customarily do.

Source: Indeed (2022)
Average annual salary $78,210
10th percentile $59,519
25th percentile $73,581
50th percentile (median) $89,026
75th percentile $107,119
90th percentile $123,591

Education and Certification Requirements for Zoo Vet Techs

The Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians (AZVT) is the leading certification organization of veterinary technical care in zoo animal science. AZVT notes seven steps individuals must complete to become zoo vet techs. These steps, enumerated in the order they must be completed, appear below:

  1. Students must graduate from a veterinary technology program that is approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Students are also recommended to join the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) and the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians (AZVT).

  2. Accrue work experience in the field of zoo medicine that is at least 10,000 hours (no less than five years).

  3. Complete at least 40 hours of continuing education (CE) in a field relevant to the work of zoo vet techs. These CE credits must be completed within the five years preceding application to take the AVZMT exam (Step 7).

  4. Complete at least 40 case logs, of which five are detailed case studies. These studies must be done within mammal, avian, and reptile/amphibian categories. The studies must also be approved by a qualified supervisor.

  5. Complete an advanced skills list. A signature of a qualified co-worker or veterinarian is necessary and thereby verifies the student’s skill to work as a zoo vet tech.

  6. Obtain two letters of recommendation. These letters must be offered by qualified individuals such as members of the Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians, supervising zoological veterinarians, or Diplomates of the American College of Zoological Medicine.

  7. Upon completing the aforementioned six steps, an individual may sit for the AVZMT Examination. Successful exam passage allows one to become certified as a zoological veterinary technician.

Zoo vet techs must possess skills in problem-solving, communication, interpersonal relations, and compassion. Such practitioners must be sufficiently healthy to engage in various physical activities typical of their roles. Techs need to have the strength, patience, and ability to handle animals of different sizes and dispositions. If a tech works with animals prone to dangerous behavior, additional preparatory training may be required. Customary positions will often require walking, long periods of standing and bending, and the manipulation of heavy objects to facilitate their customary tasks.

Finally, given the diverse needs of zoo animals, zoo vet techs also often must be available to work a flexible schedule, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Emergency situations may necessitate a zoo vet tech responding at any hour of the day or night.

Additional Specialization Areas for Veterinary Technicians

The field of veterinary medicine allows for a range of specializations. Within the specialization of zoo veterinary medicine exists the potential for still further specialization. For example, those seeking to work with large animals and horses may become certified veterinary technician specialists (VTS) in a subfield where necessary skills are also applicable to caring for large animals.

Those zoo vet techs who ultimately specialize in working with marine life may need to seek out specialized training and experience to meet the needs and risks of this focus area. For example, obtaining a SCUBA certification may make an individual more marketable as marine animal care procedures and related research must often occur within the water.

Bernd Geels (Writer)

Bernd Geels is a Berlin, Germany-based freelance writer and artist. He holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science and two graduate degrees. He completed his most recent graduate degree in international environmental studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2011. He is interested in healthcare, climate change, marine conservation, indigenous science and refugee issues. You can reach him directly at berndgeels@gmail.com.