Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist Career Description
Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems.
What they do
Zoologists and wildlife biologists study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.
They typically do the following:
• Develop and conduct experimental studies with animals in controlled or natural surroundings
• Collect biological data and specimens for analysis
• Study the characteristics of animals, such as their interactions with other species, reproduction, population dynamics, diseases, and movement patterns
• Analyze the influence that human activity has on wildlife and their natural habitats
• Research, initiate, and maintain ways of improving breeding programs that support healthy game animals, endangered species, or other wild populations of land or aquatic life
• Estimate, monitor, and manage wildlife populations and invasive plants and animals
• Develop and implement programs to reduce risk to human activities from wildlife and invasive species, such as keeping wildlife from impacting airport operations or livestock and crop production
• Write research papers, reports, and scholarly articles that explain their findings
• Give presentations on research findings to academics and the general public
• Develop conservation plans and make recommendations on wildlife conservation and management issues to policymakers and the general public
Zoologists and wildlife biologists perform a variety of scientific tests and experiments. For example, they take blood samples from animals to assess their nutrition levels, check animals for disease and parasites, and tag animals in order to track them. Although the roles and abilities of zoologists and wildlife biologists often overlap, zoologists typically conduct scientific investigations and basic research on particular types of animals, such as birds or amphibians, whereas wildlife biologists are more likely to study specific ecosystems or animal populations, such as a particular at-risk species. Wildlife biologists also do applied work, such as the conservation and management of wildlife populations.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists use geographic information systems (GIS), modeling software, and other computer programs to estimate wildlife populations and track the movements of animals. They also use these computer programs to forecast the spread of invasive species or diseases, project changes in the availability of habitat, and assess other potential threats to wildlife.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists conduct research for a variety of purposes. For example, many zoologists and wildlife biologists work to increase our knowledge and understanding of wildlife species. Traditionally, many wildlife biologists researched ways to encourage abundant game animal populations to support recreational hunting and tourism. Today, many also work with public officials in conservation efforts that protect species from threats and help animal populations return to and remain at sustainable levels.
Most zoologists and wildlife biologists work on research teams with other scientists and technicians. For example, zoologists and wildlife biologists may work with environmental scientists and hydrologists to monitor water pollution and its effects on fish populations.
Zoologists generally specialize first in either vertebrates or invertebrates and then in specific species. Following are some examples of specialization by species:
• Cetologists study marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.
• Entomologists study insects, such as beetles and butterflies.
• Herpetologists study reptiles and amphibians, such as snakes and frogs.
• Ichthyologists study wild fish, such as sharks and lungfish.
• Malacologists study mollusks, such as snails and clams.
• Mammalogists study mammals, such as monkeys and bears.
• Ornithologists study birds, such as hawks and penguins.
• Teuthologists study cephalopods, such as octopuses and cuttlefish.
Other zoologists and wildlife biologists are identified by the aspects of zoology and wildlife biology they study, such as evolution and animal behavior. Following are some examples:
• Anatomy is the study of structure of organisms and their parts.
• Embryology is the study of the development of embryos and fetuses.
• Ethology, sometimes called behavioral ecology, is the study of animal behaviors as natural or adaptive traits.
• Histology, or microscopic anatomy, is the study of cells and tissues in plants and animals.
• Physiology is the study of the normal function of living systems.
• Soil zoology is the study of animals which live fully or partially in the soil.
• Teratology is the study of abnormal physiological development.
• Zoography is the study of descriptive zoology, and describes plants and animals.
Many people with a zoology and wildlife biology background become high school teachers or college or university professors.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists work in offices, laboratories, and outdoors. Depending on their job and interests, they may spend considerable time in the field gathering data and studying animals in their natural habitats. Other zoologists and wildlife biologists may spend very little time in the field.
Fieldwork can require zoologists and wildlife biologists to travel to remote locations anywhere in the world. For example, cetologists studying whale populations may spend months at sea on a research ship. Other zoologists and wildlife biologists may spend significant amounts of time in deserts or remote mountainous and woodland regions. The ability to travel and study nature firsthand is often viewed as a benefit of working in these occupations, but few modern amenities may be available to those who travel in remote areas.
Fieldwork can be physically demanding, and zoologists and wildlife biologists work in both warm and cold climates and in all types of weather. For example, ornithologists who study penguins in Antarctica may need to spend significant amounts of time in cold weather and on ships, which may cause seasickness. In all environments, working as a zoologist or wildlife biologist can be emotionally demanding because interpersonal contact may be limited.
How to become a Zoologist and/or Wildlife Biologist
Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions; a master’s degree is often needed for higher level investigative or scientific work. A Ph.D. is necessary to lead independent research and for most university research positions.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. Many schools offer bachelor’s degree programs in zoology and wildlife biology or in a closely related field, such as ecology. An undergraduate degree in biology with coursework in zoology and wildlife biology also is good preparation for a career as a zoologist or wildlife biologist.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically need at least a master’s degree for higher level investigative or scientific work. A Ph.D. is necessary for the majority of independent research positions and for university research positions. Most Ph.D.-level researchers need to be familiar with computer programming and statistical software.
Students typically take zoology and wildlife biology courses in ecology, anatomy, wildlife management, and cellular biology. They also take courses that focus on a particular group of animals, such as herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) or ornithology (birds). Courses in botany, chemistry, and physics are important because zoologists and wildlife biologists must have a well-rounded scientific background. Wildlife biology programs may focus on applied techniques in habitat analysis and conservation. Students also should take courses in mathematics and statistics, given that zoologists and wildlife biologists must be able to do complex data analysis.
Knowledge of computers is important because zoologists and wildlife biologists frequently use advanced computer software, such as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software, to do their work.
The median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $63,270 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $101,780.
Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Zoologists and wildlife biologists will be needed to study human and wildlife interactions as the human population grows and development impacts wildlife and their natural habitats. However, because most funding comes from governmental agencies, demand for zoologists and wildlife biologists will be limited by budgetary constraints.
Similar Job Titles
Aquatic Biologist, Conservation Resources Management Biologist, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Fisheries Biologist, Fisheries Management Biologist, Habitat Biologist, Migratory Game Bird Biologist, Wildlife Biologist, Zoologist
Animal Scientist, Soil and Plant Scientist, Biologist, Range Manager, Environmental Scientist and Specialist-including Health
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
• American Association for the Advancement of Science
• American Association of Zoo Keepers
• American Elasmobranch Society
• American Fisheries Society
• American Ornithological Society
• American Society of Mammalogists
• Animal Behavior Society
• Association of Field Ornithologists
• Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
• Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Magazines and Publications
Wildlife Biology Journal
The Scientist Magazine – Zoology News
The Wildlife Professional
International Journal of Zoology and Wildlife Biology
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When the climate changes, how are wildlife habitats affected? What relationships exist among animals in the wild? If you like the idea of working in the great outdoors to study questions like these— consider a job as a zoologist or wildlife biologist. Zoologists study animals, and usually specialize in a specific type of animal, like birds or amphibians, studying their behavior, diseases, and development. Wildlife biologists are more likely to study specific ecosystems or animal populations, such as an endangered species, and work to protect and manage wildlife populations. Zoologists and wildlife biologists design experiments, collect data, and share their findings through publications and presentations. Depending on their role, these scientists may conduct fieldwork, traveling to deserts, or remote mountainous and woodland regions that may have few modern comforts. Other zoologists and wildlife biologists may teach college students in classrooms, or conduct research in laboratories. Whether working alone, or teamed up with other scientists, they hold positions in government, colleges and universities, utility companies, environmental consulting firms, and conservation groups. For entry-level positions, these scientists need a bachelor’s degree in zoology, microbiology, biochemistry or a related field; a master’s degree or Ph.D. is often needed for higher level research or scientific work.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org