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.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically do the following:
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:
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:
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.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists hold about 19,400 jobs. The largest employers of zoologists and wildlife biologists are as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||36%|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||23|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||8|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||7|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||7|
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.
Some zoologists and wildlife biologists handle wild animals or spend significant amounts of time outdoors in difficult terrain or in inclement weather. Rates of illness and injury for these workers is not high, but precautions should be taken when handling wildlife or working in remote areas.
Most zoologists and wildlife biologists work full time. They may work long or irregular hours, especially when doing fieldwork. Zoologists and wildlife biologists who work with nocturnal animals may need to work at night at least some of the time.
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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.
Communication skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists write scientific papers and give talks to the public, policymakers, 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 with little human contact. As with other occupations that deal with animals, emotional stability is important in 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 to negotiate conflicting goals.
Observation skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists must be able to notice slight changes in an animal's behavior or appearance.
Outdoor skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to chop firewood, swim in cold water, navigate rough terrain in poor weather, carry heavy packs or equipment long distances, 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.
Some zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to have well-rounded outdoor skills. They may need to be able to drive a tractor, boat, or ATV, use a generator, or provide for themselves in remote locations.
Many zoology and wildlife biology students gain practical experience through internships, volunteer work, or some other type of employment during college or soon after graduation.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically receive greater responsibility and independence in their work as they gain experience. More education also can lead to greater responsibility. Zoologists and wildlife biologists with a Ph.D. usually lead independent research and control the direction and content of projects. In addition, they may be responsible for finding much of their own funding.
The median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists is $60,520. 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 $39,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,540.
The median annual wages for zoologists and wildlife biologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$75,040|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||65,160|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||62,090|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||54,230|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||52,720|
Most zoologists and wildlife biologists work full time. They may work long or irregular hours, especially when doing fieldwork.
Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. More 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.
As the human population grows and expands into new areas, it will expose wildlife to threats such as disease, invasive species, and habitat loss. Increased human activity can cause problems such as pollution and climate change, which endanger wildlife. Zoologists and wildlife biologists will be needed to study and gain an understanding of the impact of these factors. Many states will continue to employ zoologists and wildlife biologists to manage animal populations for tourism purposes, such as hunting game, sightseeing, and conservation. 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 natural resources.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists may face strong competition when looking for employment. Applicants with practical experience gained through internships, summer jobs, or volunteer work done before or shortly after graduation should have better chances at finding employment.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2016||Projected Employment, 2026||Change, 2016-26|
|Zoologists and wildlife biologists||19,400||20,800||8||1,500|