National Careers Week: The Educator

by ZSL on

To celebrate National Careers Week we’re looking at a range of animal-based careers here at ZSL! Meet some of our colleagues to find out more about their current roles and their career paths.

Sarah Parbery is a Vocational Learning Officer at ZSL London Zoo, developing and delivering the Zoo’s suite of vocational courses including Zoo Academy and the annual Animal Careers Conference.

Sarah Parbery, Vocational Learning Officer

  • What did your career path look like?

My career at ZSL started when I secured a seasonal job in the Retail and Admissions team at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, admitting people into the Zoo at the main entrance and working in the various gift shops around site. 

Whilst doing this job I began volunteering one day a week on the ‘Asia’ section which included animals such as Amur tiger, greater one-horned rhino and sloth bears. This role involved shadowing and assisting the zoo keepers with day-to-day tasks such as feeding and cleaning out dens/paddocks. 

During this I time I also signed myself up to the DMZAA course (Diploma in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium Animals). This is the course that was a previous requirement for keepers to qualify. (However, ZSL has recently changed their keeper programme and now run an apprenticeship scheme instead as a more practical alternative.)

After about a year, I was offered a seasonal keeper position on the farm and sea lion section, which led to a trainee and then qualified role. My job involved the day-to-day management of the Californian sea lions, Asian short-clawed otters and a range of domestic farm stock. A large part of this role involved animal training and presentations, this was my favourite part of the job. It was incredibly rewarding being able to train husbandry behaviours such as ultrasound, x-ray and voluntary blood draw.


  • What was the most challenging part of being a keeper? 

The early mornings and cold winters! But you definitely get used to it. 

The most rewarding part was when Oscar the sea lion pup was born. It was amazing to be able to work with such a young, inquisitive animal and watching him grow and learn was amazing.

Sarah Parbery, Vocational Learning Officer

  • Why did you make the move from Qualified Keeper to Vocational Learning Officer?

After about 6 years in this role I was looking to gain some experience in zoo education. I began shadowing the education team at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and assisting with their practical programmes, which eventually led to me securing my current job at ZSL London Zoo. 

My job here involves working with young people who are interested in animal/conservation careers. It is extremely rewarding being able to utilise the skills I learnt as a keeper to inspire the next generation. 

  • What advice would you give someone looking to work with animals?

My best advice would be to gain as much practical experience as you can to show your dedication and to set you aside from others – zoo jobs are very competitive! As somebody with no previous animal experience before ZSL, I would recommend considering all roles within the zoo to get your foot in the door. After this, the opportunities are much easier to come by. 

Feeling inspired by National Careers Week? Fancy gaining some practical animal experience within ZSL? We currently run a suite of hugely popular Zoo Academy courses, for those aged 8-17, ranging from 2-5 days. 

Find out more about our Zoo Academy courses 

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