Podcast: Koalafications for becoming a zookeeper

Michelle Birkett zookeeper - animal science graduate

Animal science graduate Michelle Birkett talks about her dream job as a zookeeper in Sarah Holloway's latest ‘Seize the Yay’ podcast.

“If there wasn't already enough ‘yay’ going on up until this point, we were lucky enough to head to Adelaide to record this one on location at Adelaide Zoo,” says Sarah, whose podcast features inspiring people who find their ‘yay’ in life.

“I'm delighted to have Senior Zookeeper Michelle Birkett on the show to confirm that it is in fact the best job ever.

“I loved meeting Michelle not only because she adores what she does, but also because it's been something she's wanted to do since she was younger and kept at it despite everyone telling her she'd ‘eventually grow out of it’”

“I always loved animals. A big thing for me was when The Lion King came out. That was like my life. I loved The Lion King so much - and that was when I was like ‘oh my God’, I am going to work with animals. That’s all I wanted to do.”Michelle Birkett - Zookeeper

Michelle knew at an early age that she wanted to work with animals. However, it was work experience at a veterinary clinic during high school that influenced her decision to pursue an ‘outdoors’ animal career.

Fast forward to the University of Adelaide, where her career was catalysed by studying the Bachelor of Science (Animal Science).

“It starts off as basic science, so you have the understanding of all of the stuff that’s coming up afterwards,” she says.

“Everything from second year onwards was animal focussed, and I use a lot of it today. We studied things like nutrition, reproductive physiology and anatomy, and it all comes together in the end to be really useful.”

During her study, you would often find Michelle at the zoo.

“Throughout uni I had a membership. I would always come and sit with the pelicans to do my lecture notes, I thought it would be inspiring.”

Volunteering the key to becoming a zookeeper

Michelle highlights how volunteering boosted her skills and knowledge, and helped her gain her ‘dream job’.

“A lot of people grow up wanting to be a zookeeper, so it can be very competitive.”

“A lot people volunteer – that’s how you get the job. You need the education, but you really need to volunteer. I can’t think of many people who have got a job as a zookeeper without volunteering.”

Michelle encouraged anyone with an interest in working with animals to volunteer, which will help you "get a foot in the door".

On the topic of ‘having a foot in something', Michelle explains that being a zookeeper is not always glamourous.

“Me with an amazing bird, or me walking a spectacular animal – we really cherry pick those moments… As a zookeeper, most of it is about poop, so much poop!"

“We get really obsessed with it as well. Never have lunch with a bunch of zookeepers, because we’re like ‘did you see in the goat yard the other day…’ Everyone else is put off their food, and we’re just happy eating.”

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Tagged in School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Animal Science, Veterinary Medicine, Engagement and Industry