Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife, and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Duties

Zoologists and wildlife biologists 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
  • Estimate, monitor, and manage wildlife populations and invasive plants and animals
  • 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 levels of nutrition, check animals for disease and parasites, and tag animals in order to track them.

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, diseases, changes in the availability of habitat, and 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. They also work closely with public officials to develop wildlife management and conservation plans 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 the effects of water pollution on fish populations.

Many zoologists and wildlife biologists study specific species. The following are examples of those who specialize 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.
  • Mammalogists study mammals, such as monkeys and bears.
  • Ornithologists study birds, such as hawks and penguins.

Some wildlife biologists study animals based on where they live. The following are examples of those who specialize by habitat:

  • Limnologists study organisms that live in freshwater.
  • Marine biologists study organisms that live in saltwater
  • Terrestrial biologists study organisms that live on land, including plants and microbes. Microbiologists study microbes exclusively.

Other zoologists and wildlife biologists are identified by the aspects of zoology and wildlife biology they study, such as evolution and animal behavior. The following are some examples:

  • Botanists study plants, including their growth, diseases, and structures. Agronomy is the plant science concerning crop production. For more information on agronomists, see the profile on agricultural and food scientists.
  • Ecologists study ecosystems, which include all relationships between organisms and with the surrounding environments.
  • Evolutionary biologists study the origins of species and the changes in their inherited characteristics over generations.

Many people with a zoology and wildlife biology background become high school teachers or college or university professors. For more information, see the profiles on high school teachers and postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment: 

Zoologists and wildlife biologists held about 20,100 jobs in 2012. They work in offices, laboratories, and outdoors. Depending on their position and interests, they may spend considerable time in the field gathering data and studying animals in their natural habitats.

Fieldwork can require zoologists and wildlife biologists to travel to remote locations anywhere in the world. For example, marine biologists 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. This ability to travel and study nature firsthand is often viewed as a benefit of working in this field, but there may be limited availability of modern amenities while traveling 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, marine biologists may need to spend significant amounts of time in cold water and on ships, which may cause seasickness. In all environments, working as a zoologist or wildlife biologist can be emotionally demanding since interpersonal contact may be limited.

The industries that employed the most zoologists and wildlife biologists in 2012 were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 34%
Federal government, excluding postal service 24
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 10
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 7
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 6
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 4

Work Schedules

Most zoologists and wildlife biologists work full time. They may work long or irregular hours when doing fieldwork. Zoologists and wildlife biologists who work with nocturnal animals may need to work a schedule which includes night hours.

Education and Training: 

Zoologists and wildlife biologists need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions, but a master’s degree is often needed for advancement. A Ph.D. is necessary for independent research and for university research positions.

Education

Zoologists and wildlife biologists need at least a bachelor’s degree. Many schools offer bachelor’s degree programs in zoology and wildlife biology or a closely related field such as ecology. An undergraduate degree in biology with coursework in zoology and wildlife biology is also 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 positions. A Ph.D. is necessary for most independent research and for university research positions. Ph.D.-level researchers typically need familiarity 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 more on applied techniques in habitat analysis and conservation. Students should also take courses in mathematics and statistics because zoologists and wildlife biologists must be able to do complex data analysis.

Knowledge of computer science 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.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists write scientific papers and give talks to the public, policy makers, and academics.

Critical-thinking skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists need sound reasoning and judgment to draw conclusions from experimental results and scientific observations.

Emotional stamina and stability. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to endure long periods of time with little human contact. As with other occupations that deal with animals, emotional stability is important when working with injured or sick animals.

Interpersonal skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically work on teams. They must be able to work effectively with others to achieve their goals or negotiate conflicting goals.

Observation skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists must be able to notice slight changes in an animal’s characteristics, such as their behavior or appearance.

Outdoor skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to chop firewood, swim in cold water, navigate rough terrain in poor weather, or perform other activities associated with life in remote areas.

Problem-solving skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists try to find the best possible solutions to threats that affect wildlife, such as disease and habitat loss.

Other Experience

Some zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to have well-rounded outdoors skills. They may need to be able to drive a tractor, use a generator, or provide for themselves in remote locations.

Advancement

Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. More education can also lead to greater responsibility. Zoologists and wildlife biologists with a Ph.D. usually lead research teams and control the direction and content of projects. They may also be responsible for finding much of their own funding.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $57,710 in May 2012. 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 $37,100, and the top 10 percent earned more than $95,430.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for zoologists and wildlife biologists in the top six industries in which these scientists worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $72,700
Research and development in the physical, engineering,
and life sciences
59,670
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 57,110
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 56,740
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 55,610
State government, excluding education and hospitals 51,780

Most zoologists and wildlife biologists work full time. They may work long or irregular hours when doing fieldwork.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. More zoologists and wildlife biologists will be needed to study the impact of population growth and development on wildlife and their habitats. However, demand for zoologists and wildlife biologists in local, state, and federal government agencies, such as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, will vary based on the budgets for these agencies.

As the population grows and expands into new areas, it will expose wildlife to threats such as disease, invasive species, and habitat loss. Increased human activity causes problems, such as pollution and climate change, which endanger wildlife. Changes in climate patterns can be detrimental to the migration habits of animals, and increased sea levels can destroy wetlands. Therefore, zoologists and wildlife biologists will be needed to research, develop, and carry out wildlife management and conservation plans that combat these threats and protect our biological resources.

Job Prospects

Zoologists and wildlife biologists should have good job opportunities. In addition to job growth, many job openings will be created by zoologists and wildlife biologists who retire, advance to management positions, or change careers.

Year to year, the number of job openings available in local, state, and federal government agencies, such as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, will vary based on the budgets for these agencies.

For More Information: 

For more information about zoologists and wildlife biologists, visit

The Wildlife Society

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

American Society of Mammalogists

American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

Ornithological Societies of North America

Zoological Association of America

For more information about issues in zoology and wildlife biology, visit

United States Geographical Survey

National Park Service

For more information about careers in botany, visit

Botanical Society of America

For more information about careers in ecology, visit

Ecological Society of America

For information on federal government education requirements for zoologists and wildlife biologists, visit

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

To find job openings for zoologists and wildlife biologists in the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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