Zookeeper and Education Internships


Whether your goal is to work directly with animals as a zookeeper, curator, trainer or other position; or as an educational instructor working directly with humans, the Dakota Zoo Zookeeper or Educational Internship program may be just the ticket for you.  All internships are unpaid, but college credits may be earned as provided by your educational institution.


Zookeeper Internships

The Dakota Zoo’s Zookeeper Internship Program offers individuals a unique opportunity to work directly with a wide variety of animals. Internships are available for motivated persons who are striving to gain experience in the zoo field and/or or college graduates seeking on-the-job experience. Internships provide practical experience in a zoological environment, provide some of the experience needed to be considered for positions working in zoological facilities and may help the intern to decide on their final career choice.

A self-motivated and serious intern can expect to gain an understanding of the Dakota Zoo’s dedication to fostering awareness and appreciation for wildlife as described in its mission statement, “to instill and inspire a better understanding and appreciation for animals and nature.”  The intern can also expect to grow to understand the importance of wildlife conservation and preservation through learning about the Dakota Zoo Conservation Fund and its mission “to support and promote wildlife conservation on a local, national and international level, with special emphasis on animal species that are found in our collection.”  Whether it is learning about the Dakota Zoo’s involvement in programs such as Species Survival Plans (SSP’s), activities such as spotlighting endangered blackfooted ferrets in the badlands of South Dakota or assisting with helping an injured eagle to recuperate, interns will be able to grasp the significance that just one facility can make in the efforts of supporting wildlife conservation and enabling zoo visitors to gain an appreciation and concern for animals and nature.

Interns can also gain knowledge of animal husbandry, animal training, enrichment, dietary requirements of animals, general knowledge of behavior, disease, proper animal handling, chemical immobilization and restraint techniques, depending upon the time of year, weather and other considerations.


Zookeeper Internship Duties

Under the tutelage and direction of the Dakota Zoo staff, interns will learn skills and techniques necessary to provide care for the animals at the Dakota Zoo. Interns will assist in the upkeep of exhibits/ enclosures and interact with the visiting public during operating hours. The following duties and responsibilities are normally associated with the internship program, but you may be called upon to help with a variety of other duties not specifically mentioned.

  • Exhibit maintenance: Learn the proper techniques for cleaning/disinfecting animal exhibits and holding areas. Assist with minor repairs and learn to use basic tools.
  • Food preparation and feeding: Learn about the nutritional needs of the animals at the Dakota Zoo and assist in preparing and feeding animal diets.
  • Animal observation and documentation: Learn about normal animal behaviors and how to recognize behaviors that may not be normal and might indicate a shift in breeding season, illness or another cause. Interns will also learn how to and the importance of documenting behavioral observations.
  • Animal handling: Learn proper and safe animal handling/restraint techniques used when necessary for animal transport, medical examinations, and routine husbandry procedures. Interns will also become familiar with capture and restraint equipment and may assist in a chemical immobilization of an animal depending on the season, weather and need for such as procedure.
  • Animal enrichment and training: Assist in providing animal enrichment to the animals at the Dakota Zoo.  Learn about the importance of animal training and observe training procedures and techniques.
  • Interaction with the public: Learn about the zoo’s animal collection and be willing and able to interact with guests by providing general information and keeper chats.


Education Internships

The Dakota Zoo’s Education Internship Program allows interns to gain invaluable experience in crafting animal-based educational programming, handling ambassador animals for presentations, and much more! Internships are available for motivated individuals who are striving to gain experience in the zoo field and/or or college graduates seeking on-the-job experience. Internships provide practical experience in a zoological environment, provide some of the experience needed to be considered for positions working in zoological facilities, and may help the intern to decide on their final career choice. 


Education Internship Duties

Under the supervision of Dakota Zoo’s Education Coordinator, interns will be expected to interact with guests, handle ambassador animals, assist in youth camps, and assist in other day-to-day responsibilities that arise. 

  • Summer Camps: Dakota Zoo hosts several camps in the Summer for children ages 3-12. Interns will assist in planning and operation of these camps under the supervision of the Education Coordinator.  

  • Animal Handling: Interns must be comfortable handling ambassador animals for public presentations. Animals used for presentations include an armadillo, snakes, turtles, ferrets, and more. Interns will also aid in the supervision of teen volunteers during ambassador animal presentations.  

  • Interpretive Programs: Interns will participate in scheduled BioFact presentations and Ambassador Animal Presentations throughout the summer and must be willing to present to the public a variety of animals, with a conservation message being the backbone of the presentations. 

  • Lesson Planning: Interns will assist the Education Coordinator in planning camps. This includes coming up with a schedule and planning activities to be completed by campers. 

  • Interaction with Public: Interns are expected to be a friendly and welcoming presence during working hours. This includes moments outside of scheduled presentations that can be used to educate the public and/or foster empathy for wildlife. 

  • Final Project: All interns are expected to work on a final project to be completed by the end of their internship. These projects will have the ultimate goal of improving the Dakota Zoo education program. Potential projects to be completed could include planning your own educational event, creating new interpretive signage to be posted around the zoo, etc.  


Requirements of Interns

Interns should be pursuing a degree in biology, zoology, fisheries and wildlife, education, or a related field. They must have completed 2 years of college and maintained a GPA of 2.5 or higher.

Zookeeper internships are physically demanding and not for the faint of heart.  Interns can expect to be working in areas that require hopping over a fence, lifting, raking, getting feet wet, etc., and must also be able to safely lift at least 50 lbs.  Winters are cold and proper clothing, footwear, gloves, hats, etc. must be worn.  At all times of the year, zookeepers must be able to tolerate hay, dust, animal hair and dander and, if allergic to a particular type of animal or other allergy, have medicines that allow them to function normally.

Interns must have a current tetanus vaccination and be willing to have an annual TB screening.  They must have a strong desire to learn and consider their internship similar to a job…once a schedule is set the intern must adhere to it.  Internships may be curtailed by zoo staff in the event of excessive tardiness or failure to show up for shifts.

Zookeeper internships consist of a scheduled work week to be determined by the zoo staff and intern.  Interns must be flexible with their schedule and have the ability to work weekdays, weekends and holidays.

Interns are required to interact with zoo visitors on a daily basis by participating in zookeeper talks, animal enrichment, assisting with animal training and educational programs. Interns are expected to become proficient with public speaking, daily animal care and performing other necessary tasks consistent with operating a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Participants should have goals consistent with a career in the zoo profession, have the ability to work well on your own and as part of a team and follow directions an accept direction willingly.

All positions are unpaid with no housing is provided.


Benefits of Internship

The completion of an internship at the Dakota Zoo gives valuable experience that can directly influence the participant’s chances of gaining a zookeeper position at an AZA accredited zoo.  The variety of animals at our facility and the ability to gain familiarity with many of our 128+ species can demonstrate an intern’s ability to work effectively in a zoo environment.

The Dakota Zoo is a leader in the chemical immobilization of a wide variety of animals utilizing the latest developments in combination drugs.  Handling facilities and animal training are also valuable resources that are utilized to safely and effectively handle many types of animals.


To Apply For an Internship

Send a completed application and questionnaire along with a cover letter and resume to: Allison Malkowski, Assistant Director, asdirect@dakotazoo.org.

Applications must be postmarked by the following dates for the following sessions:

  • Winter (January - April) – November 15th
  • Summer (May - August) – March 15th
  • Fall (September - December) – July 15th