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Zoo Keeping



Zookeeping for You?

The Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary provides every animal with some form of enrichment each day. Enrichment encourages animals to use their natural abilities, increase activity levels, make some choices about their lives and experience new things. Enrichment offers animals novelty, opportunity and choice. Visit enrichmentonline.org for some great enrichment ideas.

In the wild, animals must search for food, defend their territories, escape predators and build homes. Captive animals have these needs met by the keepers, so it is important to offer other means of physical and mental stimulation to encourage natural behaviors. Foraging for food and nest building take up a large part of a wild animals' day, so some animal enrichment you might see includes:

  • Crickets in a brown bag for bobcats
  • Frozen mice in the Cougar pools
  • Mealworms in a tub of substrate for the primates
  • Straw and other nest building materials placed around the exhibits
  • Carcass feedings (Folsom Zoo Sanctuary uses non-live prey such as rabbits, chickens, mice, rats, quail and road-kill deer)

Other forms of enrichment increase sensory stimulation and include:

  • Perfumed magazine pages in cardboard boxes for the wolves
  • A colorful catalogue for the primates
  • Herbs and spices and other scents around an exhibit
  • Mirrors
  • Deer scent on cardboard for the Tigers

In the photo gray wolves play with scented brown paper and a pumpkin. They spend several hours each day playing. Highly intelligent and social, wolves have many games they play throughout life. As with humans, play among wolves helps to strengthen social ties and trust within the pack.

Other enrichment items are designed to encourage the animal to think! Items include:

  • Puzzle feeders for the primates
  • Specially designed food boxes

Black Bears had a lot of fun with the welded metal box that Alia Mulver spent over a year designing. It also includes a plexi-glass side for zoo visitors to watch how the bears extract the food that is placed inside.

And environmental enrichment:

  • Adding a tree branch for the birds
  • Boomer Balls and other "furniture" for the animals
  • Providing different types of substrates eg: mulch, dirt, pea-gravel.
  • Providing live and artificial plants for shade and barriers
  • Creating vertical dimensions eg: cougar, feral cat, bobcat, and fox, cat walks; ropes and rock work for the primates.

Enrichment Volunteers can prepare enrichment items at home for the keepers to give to the animals.  The Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary is serious about enrichment for all our captive animals.  We invite you to help us think of safe, interesting, fun ways to enrich your favorite animals' lives.  When your object is given to the animal we invite you to come and watch.  We encourage enrichment Volunteers to document all stages of their special projects and use the experience for community service requirements, school assignments or youth group awards and badges.

We encourage volunteers to save enrichment materials from home like used cardboard paper towel rolls, cotton or hemp rope, cereal boxes and perfume bottles.


Animal training and enrichment go hand-in-hand. Animal training is another form of enrichment, and by using "positive reinforcement" animals voluntarily participate in the training sessions. Training helps keepers with their general housekeeping duties - shifting animals inside/outside so their exhibits can be cleaned and helping the veterinarian observe and treat an animal more safely and easily. Training can provide a challange for the animals and offers them a chance to earn a worthwhile reward that can be food - a favorite treat, or tactile - a brush or scratch, or some animals are simply motivated by a "well done" or a "clap." Folsom Zoo Sanctuary uses the "clicker" as a tool for marking the required behavior and the click is swiftly followed with a reward. Training is a learning process for keepers and animals here at the zoo but we are already seeing the benefits.

Click here for video of bobcat Ono stationing.

Zookeeping for You?

The Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary receives many inquiries from children and adults interested in learning about becoming a zookeeper. Here are some suggestions on what zoo careers entail and how to prepare for them:

Elementary School Age

  • Start learning early! Watch nature shows on TV, read wildlife books, visit websites on natural history.
  • Visit zoos, aquariums, parks and natural history museums.
  • Take responsibility of caring for a pet. Taking care of small pets will teach you about responsbile animal care.
  • Join science clubs or pariticipate in scouting activiites. Join in community fieldwork projects.
  • Observing wildlife and keeping a nature journal can provide a better understanding of individual species.
  • Enroll in many of the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary programs that offer a go behind the scenes look and learn experience to see what it takes to be a zookeeper.

Secondary School Age

  • Maintain your interest in the animal field by reading, watching nature shows and visiting zoos, aquariums, parks and natural history museums.
  • Tell your school guidance counselor that you are interested in an animal related career. They can guide you towards a college or university that specializes in programs for the professional zookeeping field.
  • Consider a volunteer position in the animal field: veterinary hospital, animal shelter, horse stable, farm, or zoo. The Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary offers a Volunteer program as a animal keeper aide if you are 16 or over. If you are under 16 you can still work on Enrichment projects for the animals.
  • Consider becoming a zoo camp counsellor at the Spring and Summer camps held at Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. If you are between the ages of 14 and 17, gain leadership skills and experience working with kids and animals. As a counselor you will lead campers in activities such as games, crafts and hands-on interaction with animals.

College Age

  • Take courses in fields such as Zoology, General Biology, Forestry, Animal Husbandry, Ecology, Veterinary Medicine, Environmental Studies, and earn you Bachelor's degree in one of these science fields.
  • Work part-time in an animal related field such as Veterinary medicine, humane society shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers, farms or stable work, or a zoo. Prior animal handling experience is very beneficial when you are applying for a job as a zookeeper.
  • Consider an internship and externship at your local zoo or aquarium.

Ready for a Job?

  • If you are interested in working as a zookeeper at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary please check out current job openings on the City web site. Hopefully you will already have lots of Volunteer and part-time work experience in the animal field to be a strong candidate for any positions.

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