Lions? Tigers? Bears? Wild animal trainers work with and train wild animals – most of those animals are the very ones you have been taught all your life to stay away from. Wild animal trainers spend lots of time with the animal, training feeding and taking care of him. Close connections with the animals occur frequently, and for most wild animal trainers – this is the best job on earth.
But what happens when a lion or tiger loses it? Once a wild animal goes out of control – things can go very wrong very fast – and serious injury or death can be inflicted in seconds. This job can be immensely rewarding and fun- but it is still a dangerous job.
Find an animal training job
Job description: Wild animal trainers train animals for obedience, live performances, security or assisting people with disabilities. Animal trainers train animals to respond to human commands given vocally or through contact, but the most dangerous part of the job is to train animals to behave against their nature (training a crocodile or lion to keep its mouth open while the trainer puts his head in).
This job demands lots of patience – as training animals – especially wild animals (like bears, lions and tigers) – can take months or even years. Also, this job is very repetitive – animal trainers must go through the same practice drills over and over, until the animal is trained.
Animal trainers are also responsible for the well being of the animal, and must feed, water, bathe and groom -and also refer the animal to veterinarians if needed.
Work environment: This job is truly for die hard animal junkies – and can involve some difficulties. Trainers must have the capacity to work long hours for months and even years with the same animal, to achieve successful training. The environment is usually outdoors, in large penned areas, where the animal can move, and even in pools and the ocean, if training marine animals. Wild animal training is done in all types of weather, so the wild animal trainer can expect to work outdoors in various types of weather.
Animal trainers also clean cages, can physically handle the animal if needed and if possible, and may have to lift heavy bags of food. The job also involves administering medicine and vaccines if needed, and restraining the animal while doing so.
The training itself can be with several other animal trainers nearby, or done completely alone – depending on the animal and the phase of training.
Fatality rates: There is no reliable data involving fatality rates of wild animal trainers, but the National Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that animal trainers and handlers suffer from a higher than average rate of work related injuries – indicating the dangeorus nature of this job.
Gender: Both men and women are wild animal trainers – gender is not an issue.
What makes it a dangerous job: Wild animal training is a dangerous job as it involves direct contact for long periods with wild, untamed animals. If a wild animal goes out of control, it can easily seriously injure or kill its trainer in a matter of seconds. Also, handling and restraining animals causes injuries resulting from the animal fighting back.
Hours / Lifestyle: Wild animals in captivity need to eat and drink, and so this job involves taking care of the animal at night, weekends and holidays. Some wild animal trainers may work in shifts, or even be on call if necessary.
Pay: Wild animal trainers just starting out can expect to earn $8-$12 an hour, whilst experienced wild animal trainers can earn $40,000 – $55,000 annually.
Requirements: Basic requirements are a high school diploma of G.E.D equivalent, and a bachelor’s degree in marine biology or equivalent is needed to work with marine animals. Some sort of experience working with animals is important – experience that can be gained by volunteering at animal shelters.
Applicants interested in becoming wild animal trainers must have a steady, strong voice to command the animal and to approach the crowds. Patience is a strong virtue, and so is team work and problem solving abilities. For those interesting in training marine animals, a SCUBA diving license can be very helpful.
Training: Most training is on the job , apart from any academic degree already acquired.
Career opportunities: Many wild animal trainers are self employed – this is not an occupation that offers a structured career with clear advancement steps.
Job opportunities: Many wild animal trainers seek work with zoo’s or aquariums. Other opportunities lie with circuses, performing animal groups or in the entertainment and showbiz industry – training animals to perform in front of camera for films and TV.
Job prospects: The National Bureau of Labor Statistics expects excellent job opportunities in the future for animal trainers and handles as a group, but wild animal trainer jobs are harder to come by, and there is fierce competition for each position.
Further reading material:
Find an animal training job
Photo by: Beeron2003 / flickr