What it's like working at Edinburgh Zoo Header

What it’s Like Working at Edinburgh Zoo

Bright beautiful Rainbow Lorikeet sitting on a rope with lush trees behind him
Adorable Rainbow Lorikeet from the former exhibit Rainbow Landings – now reopened as the Brilliant Birds Exhibit.

Edinburgh has an abundance of really cool visitor attractions which offer unique job opportunities. I’ve always been drawn to jobs where I can educate people about the place in which I’m working. Like a museum bursting with history, an art gallery flowing with culture or a zoo brimming with animals! As someone interested in working in animal conservation in the future, I sought out a temporary position at Edinburgh Zoo.

My mind was consumed with thoughts of working at the wildest visitor attraction in Scotland. I didn’t care what position I had or what I’d be doing. I just knew it would be a really cool place to work! I’d previously applied for an administration job, but they needed someone to start before I arrived in the UK, so I didn’t get that position.

Thankfully, someone passed my CV onto another department that was looking for gift shop employees to start around the time I would be in the UK. Although I didn’t originally apply for this position, I was definitely interested in an interview.

It was the Edinburgh Zoo. I’d do anything to work there!

Even though I was legally allowed to work in the UK, I was a bit worried that having a temporary visa would scare some employers away and make my chances of getting a job lower than someone living in the UK. (If you’re interested in working in the UK while travelling, take a look at my post on how to get a UK work visa.) But Edinburgh Zoo regularly hires temporary workers from various countries across Europe, so I had my hopes up.

The interview went well and a few days later, when I was walking down busy Princes Street, I received a call saying I got the job. I remember being so happy that I danced in the street!

A world of experiences working at Edinburgh Zoo

View of the gift shop at Edinburgh Zoo
The Edinburgh Zoo Gift Shop during my time there.

I don’t remember much of my first day, besides how immensely sore my feet were from standing on them all day. But I do remember stressing because I couldn’t easily recognize the money. I started working on the till in the main gift shop and tried to be as nonchalant as possible when giving change. Since I was dealing with money so often, I learned all the coins in no time.

Another thing I remember is suffering from what I deemed the “Scottish Plague”, which is really just a very bad cold. My immune system was not prepared for so much contact with money and children and it just couldn’t keep up. I remember eating chips (fries) for lunch one day and I couldn’t taste or smell them at all. It was a real shame.

I’d often walk around the zoo and familiarize myself with where the animals were. I had a few favourites I’d try to visit during each shift. One that stands out was an adorably ugly marabou stork that looked like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. I loved him so much because he was so ugly it was endearing. Sadly, he wasn’t there as long as I was and was sent to another zoo.

As well as in the gift shops, I sometimes worked inside a lorikeet aviary called Rainbow Landings. There I was in charge of handing out nectar to people interested in feeding the birds. I really loved working in Rainbow Landings because I got to watch birds fly around all day.

I became friends with a few of the zookeepers and they invited me to feed one of the potoroos (a kangaroo-like marsupial) mealworms. I felt like I was on the inside, behind-the-scenes. It was a really cool experience.

Close up of a Cassowary - a dangerous beautiful bird with a blue face.
A beautiful but dangerous Cassowary.

Not all zoos are bad

As an animal rights activist, you’d think I wouldn’t be a fan of keeping animals in captivity. But modern (and good!) zoos, such as Edinburgh Zoo, are very important for animal conservation. Zoos allow scientists to research different species so they can learn how to restore and repair ecosystems, permitting future species to flourish in the wild.

Many zoos incorporate breeding programmes into their facilities, helping endangered species to thrive and grow in numbers while providing them with incredible care and protection that they wouldn’t get in the wild. Animal parks also act as a means of educating the public on the importance of taking care of these wonderful creatures and offer people a glimpse into the lives of animals they wouldn’t normally see.

Pros of working at Edinburgh Zoo

Crystal working at Edinburgh Zoo - photo taken in the photo booth
Here I am working hard -playing around with the photo booth.

The gift shop job was totally flexible

If I needed one day off, I’d let my manager know and she would make sure it was scheduled. It wasn’t even a problem if I needed several days off. This is something that you really shouldn’t take for granted because so many jobs have issues with members of staff taking time off for any reason.

At Edinburgh Zoo, I always felt so free. This is really great if you’re on a working holiday. It gives you plenty of opportunities to take time off and travel to other European countries or explore Scotland.

My co-workers were amazing, welcoming and hilarious

I always had a great time bantering with my co-workers. Although they did tease me about the way I say “bag”. This was something visitors brought up, too. We charged 5p for a carrier bag and I had to ask the customer if they wanted to buy one before bagging their purchases. I got so tired of my pronunciation confusing people that when I said the word “bag” I would pull out a bag and point at it so they knew I was saying bag!

Being surrounded by animals

Mom Red River Hog sleeping with four adorable piglets
Aren’t these Red River Hog piglets adorable?

Working in a zoo gave me the opportunity to spend my breaks walking around and seeing all sorts of animals! I really felt like I developed a bond with certain animals I visited regularly.

Access to other Scottish attractions

Working at an attraction in Scotland grants you special access to all other attractions within the country, thanks to the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions. This was great for me since I love being a tourist and will visit any attraction I can!

Cons of working at Edinburgh Zoo

They’re chimps, not monkeys

No matter how much you resist, it will eventually drive you insane when zoo visitors call the chimps “monkeys”. In case you don’t know the difference, monkeys have tails and chimps don’t. A small piece of each zoo employee dies a little bit every time you call a chimp a monkey.

Should you work at Edinburgh Zoo?

Whether you’re a temporary, foreign or local worker interested in a position at Edinburgh Zoo, go for it! There are so many more opportunities than just the gift shop. There’s the reception, food services, administration and education, to name a few.

Gentoo Penguin looking up at Edinburgh Zoo
Giving me the evil eye as I eat my lunch…definitely thinking “where the hell is my sandwich?”

I can’t recommend working at Edinburgh Zoo enough. It’s a fun place to work and it’s where I made lifelong friendships because the people are so nice, welcoming and fun. Plus you get to visit the zoo every day! Who else gets to visit penguins on their lunch break?

More Information about Moving to Scotland

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Comments 16

  1. This is very cool,sounds like it was one of those jobs you would love going to everyday,especially the animals. That one big bird looks like a dinosaur!

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      Yeah! It definitely was. That is one of the reasons I really liked the cassowary! I certainly wouldn’t want to run into one in the wild.

  2. Yesss! I’m so glad you were able to get a job there. Sounds like a dream come true, even if it was in retail. But hey, if you work with the right right people the right place, retail can be a lot of fun.

    I’m glad you discussed the conservation side of it. I know not all zoos are bad, but it’s hard to know sometimes since some definitely are! This does make me a lot more likely to go to Edinburgh Zoo. I do love animals, so I still like zoos, just sometimes it makes me feel a tad guilty. Also, if the animals look miserable, it devastates me!

    Scottish Plague. Brilliant. I am also not designed to be around money and children. So Jeremy holds all the money and I hide from children. I’m still sick all the time, anyway.

    The words my British friends always make fun of me for the way I say can’t and dance. Apparently it doesn’t sound ‘proper’ enough haha.

    Adorable photos – including the photobooth one!

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      Hahahahaha you make me laugh so much! I like that you hide from children and Jeremy is the holder of money. Yeah, my zoo coworkers are by far the best people I have ever worked with. It’s a shame I couldn’t just take them all to every job I’ve worked at since leaving. I think you could have the worst job in the world and have amazing coworkers and you would love your job.

      Yeah, I definitely wanted to say something about the ethics of zoos in this post. In a perfect world zoo’s wouldn’t exist but good zoos are really helping out certain species that wouldn’t have a chance in our current world.

      What does your accent sound like? Since I know you’ve lived all over the place. Do you have an accent similar to your parents?

      I think the only other word(s) I got made fun of was the word “water” (but really any word with a t) as Canadians say the T as a D. I didn’t realize this until I was flying home on an Air Canada flight and the flight attendants kept asking people if they wanted a “wader”

  3. What an awesome job, and congrats on scoring it! I absolutely love the pictures from this post.

    I worked in retail (and also the public library): Handling money and books was the worst; I was sick every three months, at least, with terrible colds and diseases…like Scarlet Fever. Those positions, like you point out, are hard because 1. you definitely have to build stamina to stand all day and 2. the public is germy AF.

    Thank you so much for the commentary about not all zoos being bad. Of course, FL has the evil SeaWorld, which is pretty awful: they breed in captivity, were accused of stealing healthy animals out of their habitats, and just don’t treat animals well…and now they are paying. I refuse to go there. Blackfish helped exposed them (and is controversial), but the documentary really got people thinking. Some zoos break my heart and make me pretty ticked. BUT, like you point out: there are zoos and places that rehabilitate animals and have safe, good practices. They do good things for wildlife, and I love supporting those types of places. Public education is needed and saving animals, giving their lives’ purpose, and educating the public is a fabulous mission.

    Love this informative, unique and fun post ; )

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      Yes! And the problem with the public being super germy is that you still need to touch everything they touched. We had hand sanitizer behind the tills but that wasn’t enough for me. I had to clean my hands to really feel clean.

      So, I have never watched the Blackfish documentary. I fear it’s going to be too sad. I’ve seen so many shock value factory farming movies that I just never want to see an animal suffer again. I definitely understand why SeaWorld is so awful though! I have never been to a SeaWorld and definitely will boycott them! I am glad that documentaries like Blackfish are getting the word out about the terrible truths about SeaWorld! Get the word out and create a happy world for all animals.

      1. Blackfish was insanely sad. I never watch sad animal anything—I feel you. The only reason that I personally chose to watch it was because I live near the park. We had gone once, for free, on a friend pass—and it just didn’t feel right. Then, Blackfish came out. I will never be back. Ever. I do also understand that Blackfish is semi one-sided, but the core ideas really seemed scummy. What a shame.

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          I probably would have gone to one of those parks in previous years too. In the city I am from we have a gigantic mall and they had dolphins in the mall in a tank! It was so weird as dolphins are such intelligent creatures. They had shows and the dolphins did tricks and I often wondered if they were actually happy or not considering they were not in the ocean. It’s a bit sad thinking back on it!

  4. It’s always the best when your workplace and your goals and/or passion align. Working at the zoo sounds like a really fun, relaxed and engaging experience, especially given your love of animals. I gotta admit, I’m one of those people that didn’t know know the difference between a monkey and a chimp. It’s a mistake I won’t make again: monkeys= tails and chimps – none! ?Thanks for fun read!

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      Yeah! I really loved it! I definitely miss it. Although, working with so many children was challenging. In regards to the monkey and chimps (all ape species) difference – there is something else I am trying to think of that OH!! Koala’s are not bears – they are marsupials. However, so many people call them koala bears. That’s another thing that eventually starts to drive you crazy as a zoo employee, hahaha.

  5. This was such a wonderful read! Thanks for making me feel the experience with you – from the awesome photos of the animals to even working in the gift shop! So awesome to spend time in this environment – something unfortunately I suspect I will not have the opportunity to do. Looking forward to making a trip to the zoo myself now!
    Best wishes

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      Thank you! Yeah, I got to be a zoo visitor any time I wanted so I was always able to get great pictures of the animals. It was really one of the best jobs I have ever had (Definitely having incredible co-workers played a big part of it!) Whenever you head to Edinburgh Zoo let me know on twitter! I’d love to see your pictures of the zoo. I should see if I am following you on instagram.

  6. I love this Crystal, I was really happy to read the benefits of zoo’s! I am always a little hesistant to support animals in captivity but I realize now that in some cases it is important!

    When I was younger I always wanted to work at a zoo and be around animals! Awesome post !

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      Yay! I am glad! Zoos (good ones) definitely are beneficial to animals that are in need of our help. Working at the zoo was amazing. It was probably the best job I have had!

  7. Hi Crystal!

    im Paula from Argentina! i was living in London until May when this pandemic forced me to come home, i loved London but deep down i wanted to try Edinburgh, that is how i came across your blog and i love it!!
    How did you get the job ar the zoo? i would love to work in some tourist atractions.
    Thank you!!

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      Hello Paula! Thank you for your kind words! I actually knew I wanted to work at the zoo before moving to Scotland so I kept an eye on their website for job listings and applied when I could! They didn’t hire me for the job I applied for but passed my CV onto someone in another department and I was hired! I would recommend checking out the attraction/attractions you want to work out and send them your CV!

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