How To Become a Zoo Designer

Zoo design is one of those niche jobs for which there isn’t really much demand, but you could combine it with another job, for example a zookeeper. On the other hand, you could train to become a landscape designer or architect and then take up zoo design on a project mode as and when the requirement comes up. Some tips on how to become a zoo designer are discussed in this article.

Job scope and description

  • Design artificial habitats for a variety of wild animals bred mostly in captivity, approximating their natural environments as much as possible;
  • Work in tandem with animal biologists, zoologists and animal conservationists to create multiple ecological settings for different animals in a defined space;
  • Help in setting-up wildlife parks, botanical gardens, large aquariums, zoos and other similar spaces, for single or multiple species.

Education and training

There is no specific course or degree program in zoo design available in educational institutes across the country and ideally, a combination of subjects in post-secondary education along with practical training opportunities is the best way to become a zoo designer.

Jon Coe, a landscape architect was the first person to coin the term ‘zoo designer’ in the 1970s, as applied to himself; Coe was also the first to propound a theoretical framework in zoo design which is the standard even today. According to Coe, the central idea in zoo design was “landscape immersion”, i.e. creating artificial habitats which took into account animal behavior and interaction with their surroundings.

Accordingly, a zoo designer’s job is a combination of landscape architect and zoologist or animal behaviorist. Coe recommends gaining expert knowledge in the following fields to further a career in zoo design.

  1. Main focus areas: Architecture – landscape and/or exhibit design; drawing, drafting & CAD.
  2. Specialist focus areas: Zoology or animal behavior; knowledge of geography, ecological habitats, bio-diversity requirements; communication, presentation and people management skills.

Career outlook

Though there may not be much demand for zoo designers at this point, it is estimated that the demand will rise as more wildlife species fall in danger of becoming extinct, plus concerns on climate change and ecological conservation, especially in emerging economies in Asia and the Middle East escalate. However, compensation levels will not be very lucrative and you should be prepared for frequent travelling, long hours of work and target-driven deadlines.

But if you love animals and want to make a contribution to sustaining wildlife in artificially-created habitats, then a career as a zoo designer is just right for you!


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