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Apprenticeship training course

Keeper and aquarist (level 3)

Responsible for the everyday care and husbandry of the animals within the collection.

Qualification level
Equivalent to A level.
Typical duration
24 months
Apprenticeship category
Agriculture, environmental and animal care
Maximum funding
Maximum amount government will fund
for apprenticeship training.
Also known as
  • Animal Keeper
  • Aquarist
  • Zoo Keeper
Skills an apprentice will learn
  • Work effectively in a safe and healthy working environment following current/relevant health and safety legislation and work place policies such as working safely with wild/higher risk animals and higher risk environments, working at height, working with chemicals, working with tools, manual handling, risk assessment, fire safety, relevant PPE
  • Demonstrate how the 5 welfare needs of an animal can be used as a basis to provide the animal with opportunities to display positive welfare, including providing a suitable environment and diet (including water), housing the animal in appropriate social groupings and protecting it from fear, pain, suffering, injury and disease and providing an environment where normal behaviour can be displayed
  • Prioritise more critical and less critical activities and tasks using scheduling techniques that enable them to meet deadlines and allow for unexpected tasks, such as an animal medical emergency, daily animal husbandry, visitor safety and staff absence
  • Communicate information clearly and within a timely manner with internal audiences such as colleagues, vets, managers and contractors, concisely, accurately and in ways that promote understanding – verbally as well as in writing (e.g. daily reports, diaries) adjusting and prioritising information and being mindful of the impact
  • Communicate effectively with external audiences such as the scientific community, general public/ visitors and media in a range of contexts including presentations, public speaking, visitor engagement, conservation education activities, customer service and delivering keeper experiences in order to educate about animal life histories and conservation issues, promoting awareness of the role of zoos in conservation and encouraging sustainable behaviour change
  • Actively listen, process and prioritise information, confirm understanding and react according to level of risk e.g. lost child procedure, animal escape, instruction from senior staff
  • Devise and deliver a talk/presentation using a range of appropriate resources such as audio/visual equipment, PowerPoint slides, physical props
  • Deal appropriately with difficult issues (e.g. visitor/internal conflicts and complaints) following workplace policies and procedures
  • Accurately record, retrieve and monitor information and write reports using a range of systems relevant to zoo/aquarium keeping within your organisation, such as diaries, ZIMS, Tracks, Excel following instruction to retrieve data or update information and follow workplace procedures designed to keep data secure
  • Use information from reliable sources using scientific nomenclature of taxa for a variety of purposes such as gathering information to share with the public and/or science community, researching information to underpin enclosure/tank design and husbandry plans including use of recognised assessment tools to identify species or habitat conservation status
  • Observe, describe and interpret animal behaviour (innate, learned, abnormal), including species specific behaviours for species in their care, taking response action where appropriate, including reporting to the supervisor or recording in animal records system
  • Develop, implement and evaluate (including safety evaluation) appropriate sensory and cognitive enrichment in accordance with enclosure/tank design and species-specific needs e.g. simulating hunting behaviours in big cats, stingrays and sharks
  • Identify individual animals through transponders, photos, ear tags, leg bands, individual markings, sex determination
  • Create a plan using the principles of population management in line with the organisation collection plan, such as the introductory meeting of a species, taking into consideration individual suitability (e.g. health status, age, social hierarchy, reproductive status), practical set up, potential issues and solutions e.g. introducing a males and females for breeding or forming single sex groups/mixed species
  • Interpret diet sheets and safely store, prepare and present diets in a manner which promotes species-specific natural behaviours, also considering individual needs (e.g. geriatric, disabled, etc.)
  • Evaluate diets and propose modifications e.g. to minimise the amount of uneaten food and contingent wastage, promote physical and psychological health and welfare meeting nutritional needs
  • Correctly follow procedures for waste management and disposal including hazardous materials, biosecurity risks, legally regulated materials
  • Identify which equipment, methods of approach, capture, handling, restraint and loading are best for specific situations and species, create plans for and make informed decisions to facilitate this e.g. fish species that are net sensitive or elasmobranchs that are trained to go in to a stretcher.
  • Show confidence in assisting with the capture and restraint of wild and high-risk species
  • Identify the most appropriate methods of successfully transporting animals, considering: species, level of risk, duration, animal welfare considerations, health and safety, legislation e.g. maintaining the temperature of the water for an overnight transport
  • Train animals’ using positive reinforcement-based techniques in various situations (e.g. target training with a single animal) and apply these techniques in the animal’s routine, monitoring and recording the results and giving feedback to the responsible supervisor
  • Identify, assess severity of and report potential health issues in animals in a timely manner. Monitor changes in health of animals and report their findings to a supervisor or veterinarian e.g. signs of ill health or injury, behaviour monitoring, body condition scoring, faecal scoring, food intake
  • Correctly collect, document and store suitable samples as part of veterinary health monitoring e.g. hair, faeces, urine, gill
  • Administer treatment following instruction from a veterinarian/competent staff member (e.g. administration of medication to an individual/group, parasite treatments, nail/hoof trimming) e.g. salt treatment, Aquatet etc.
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of different enclosure designs from the point of view of each stakeholder group (e.g. animals, keepers, vet team, visitors, educators, researchers) and propose improvements, if required
  • Select optimal enclosure substrates and furnishings and maintain them within the enclosure/tank e.g. clean appropriately, monitor condition and replace as appropriate e.g. coral chip and a siphon schedule
  • Identify potential and existing physical and bio hazards within an enclosure and associated areas, responding and participating in alterations/solutions where possible, reporting more complex issues to the relevant staff, all within a timely manner
  • Use, maintain and store a range of tools correctly, including electrical tools, appropriate to the workplace
  • Monitor and take responsibility of the health and safety of the visitors and welfare of the animals in enhanced animal contact situations, especially with higher risk and wild species, such as visitor encounter, keeper for a day experiences, walkthrough enclosures, animal handling sessions, taking action when required to minimise risks and stress
  • Comply with and support other staff in complying with emergency protocols e.g., animal escape drills, fire etc.
  • Carry out safe housekeeping regimes including the safe use and disposal of products used, cleaning of enclosures/tanks, public areas, Life Support Systems maintenance, and their associated hazards, frequency of cleaning based on situation, species and individual considering factors such as sent marking or removal of body fluids to required standard, according to species specific standard
  • Design and implement research projects; including a small number of variables or indicators, using tried and tested research methods e.g. single animal case studies of behaviour challenges
  • Analyse results and summarise findings using reporting tools including descriptive statistics, listing methods of dissemination of results including where relevant research might be published and considering the implications of findings for practices within their organisation

Full information on Keeper and aquarist (level 3) is available from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

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