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Animal Care Lead Keeper

The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens
Palm Desert, United States Posted: June 08, 2024

The Animal Care Lead Keeper is an energetic, front line position responsible for assisting the Animal Care leaders with area staff and the area animal residents.  This position is primarily responsible within a specified area of the zoo to provide the highest quality daily care, husbandry and behavioral management of a defined portion of The Living Desert’s (TLD) animal residents, and is responsible for the daily care of assigned animal habitats and other associated animal facilities. 

  • This position also performs the functions of Animal Care Keeper and able to follow instructions from Animal Care management.
  • The Animal Care Lead Keeper must demonstrate significant knowledge of husbandry practices, be able to lead and mentor staff in the performances of these practices.
  • Must demonstrate strong leadership skills which include being a role model and an example to others while working towards an improved future and shared vision within TLD and the Animal Care team.
  • The Wild Americas/Africa/Australia Lead Keeper will work with the Curator and Assistant Curator of this area in the execution of animal care excellence and guest engagement at The Living Desert.
  • The area consists of a dynamic mix of animals from the many deserts of the world including but not limited to small and large carnivores, Australian species, avian species including birds of prey, and a variety of reptiles (including venomous), small carnivore breeding center, and many dynamic multi-species habitats.
  • This area is also in planning for Lion Ridge- a dynamic African lion and small carnivore area which presents a unique experience for staff in this development.
  • The Lead Keeper is a key contributor in both daily operations and training and wellbeing programs of area animals.
  • This position will also specifically assist the Animal Care Leadership in implementing and achieving program goals, assisting Animal Care leadership while contributing at a high level to animal management conversations.
  • The position is expected also providing feedback to leadership on staff performance, area expectations, and the progress of area animals.
  • This individual will help guide and develop a dynamic and innovative team to accomplish uncompromising excellence in animal care, wellbeing, and guest engagement.
Animal Care Lead Keeper Tasks, Duties & Responsibilities:
  • Must have the ability to make good decisions regarding the well-being of animals, staff and guests while working for the greater good of the zoo. 
  • Will support the Zoo in our mission “to support desert conservation through preservation, education and appreciation” and will help the Zoo achieve a forward thinking vision of a modern zoo and inclusive culture. 
  • Must be a motivated self-starter who needs minimal supervision as well as ability to work in a team setting.
  • Provide updates and ideas for standard operating procedures and protocols in a timely manner.
  • Understanding of AZA accreditation and USDA standards. Able to recognize inspection concerns and address issues with minimal guidance.
  • Must check emails regularly and respond in a timely manner including but not limited to surveys and questionnaires.
  • Liaison between management and keeper staff as needed.  Is honest and forthcoming to Animal management with information regarding accomplishments, issues and challenges.
  • Provide mentorship to animal care keeper staff under the guidance of Animal Care management.
  • Ability to work with potentially dangerous animals under the Two Key/Two Lock/Two Keeper and Lock Out Tag Out Engineering Control systems.
  • Ability to remain calm and professional in the event of an unpredictable situation and follow through until situation is over.
Guest Service/Public Relations:
  • Deliver uncompromising excellence in animal care, well-being and guest engagement.
  • Ability to pay attention to the details of habitats and perception of animals for an optimal guest experience.
Leadership/Knowledge Specific Tasks, Duties, Responsibilities:
  • Training staff on area SOP’s, ensuring training protocols of staff and animal are being adhered to.
  • Assist Animal Care leadership as needed in support of area tasks/projects including but not limited to: ordering of supplies, animal procedures, animal programs, scheduling and communication to other TLD staff.
  • Assess on a regular basis assigned animals’ level of performance to ensure a set number of animals for programs, as determined by Animal Care Management.
  • Able to fulfill all duties described in Animal Care Keeper job description (See full job description).
Lead Keeper Criteria:
  • Must be a cooperative and collaborative team member with a great guest service attitude
  • Must have critical thinking skills while being flexible to handle interruptions and requests for information
  • Must be a self-starter, take initiative with efficient time management skills while possessing a high level of multi-tasking ability under pressure with limited supervision
  • Works to preserve and provide a positive work place including actively stopping negative talk and speculation
  • Must take a lead role annually on a major project as determined by Animal Care Management
  • Provides mentorship and training to animal care keeper staff including with positive reinforcement training projects
  • Must provide and accept crucial, productive feedback
  • Consistently works in a safe manner and proactively looks for safer processes
  • Acts as a role model for others to emulate as an excellent team member; takes a lead role in training new animal area team members in routines, policies and procedures
  • Provides mentorship and guidance for interns including ownership of process, organization and communications
  • Must be able to remain calm while working under high pressure conditions including but not limited to emergencies, personnel challenges, scheduling and deadlines
Working Conditions:
  • Standing,
  • walking,
  • twisting,
  • climbing,
  • crawling,
  • kneeling,
  • reaching motions,
  • lifting up to 50lbs.
  • Exposure to extreme heat, chemicals, and dust/airborne materials.
  • Work with potentially dangerous animals (i.e. large ungulates, carnivores, venomous animals).
  • Holiday and weekend work required.
  • Occasional conference and workshop attendance available, if funding available. Some or all expenses paid.
  • This class specification should not be interpreted as all inclusive.
  • It is intended to identify the major responsibilities and requirements of this job.
  • The incumbents may be requested to perform job-related responsibilities and tasks other than those stated in this specification.
  • To apply for current open positions: Please visit our website www.livingdesert.org/careers and submit your resume, three professional references, and a cover letter detailing why you're the perfect fit for the  position.
  • For additional information, please contact Luke Krider (Assistant Animal Care Curator) at lkrider@livingdesert.org.
  • The position will remain open until filled.
  • Desert Conservation Through Preservation, Education and Appreciation.
Experience Required


  • AA, AS or higher degree in Zoology, Biology, Animal Science or other related degree and at least one year of exotic animal experience preferred.
  • Bachelor degree preferred.
  • Experience with animal training and public presentations a plus.
  • Will substitute training and experience that provides the required knowledge, skill, and abilities.
  • Generally, one year of full time exotic animal experience will translate to one year of college.
  • Valid California driver license.
  • Must be insurable on The Living Desert's automobile policy.
  • Covid vaccination plus one booster required.
  • Annual TB test with negative reading required.
  • $24.50

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