What is a Zoologist?

Zoology is a branch of Biology, a science that focuses on the study of animals. Zoologists study the behaviour, origins, genetics, diseases and life progression of animals and wildlife. There are a variety of different ways that a Zoologist can specialize and there are many diverse jobs in this field. A Zoologist may devote their lifetime to the study of a single species, or work can be more generalized.

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What does a Zoologist do?

Some Zoologists work at zoos, participating in the direct care of animals. They will observe them, organize and conduct experimental studies in either controlled or natural surroundings. Zoologists may also help to develop educational materials for zoo staff or visitors. Others work overseeing wildlife reserves, counting animal populations or studying the behaviour of certain animals.

There may be an assumption that Zoologists are always outside working with animals, but that is not necessarily true depending on the aspect of Zoology one pursues. Many may work in a lab-based environment, studying certain biological aspects of animals. Others may work as professors in universities and colleges, teaching Zoology instead of being out in the field. Others will write reports and scientific papers or journal articles.

There are many different types of Zoologists, identified by the types of species they study. The following are a few examples of those who specialize:

  • Mammalogist - One who studies mammals, such as monkeys and elephants
  • Herpetologist - One who studies reptiles and amphibians, such as snakes and salamanders
  • Entomologist - One who studies insects
  • Ichthyologist - One who studies fish
  • Ornithologist - One who studies birds

What does it take to be a Zoologist?

In order to become a Zoologist, one will need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. 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 courses in Zoology and Wildlife Biology is also good preparation. A master’s degree is often needed for independent research and teaching positions.

Zoologists must have a well-rounded scientific background, so courses in Chemistry, Physics, and Botany are important to take. Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science are also important as Zoologists must be able to do complex data analysis as well as geographic information systems and modeling software.

There are certain qualities and attributes that Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists need to have in order to be successful. Sound reasoning and judgment is necessary in order to draw conclusions from scientific observations. Working effectively with others is important as Zoologists often work in teams. They must be observant in order to notice slight changes in an animal's behaviour. Also, problem-solving skills are necessary, especially when dealing with threats that may affect animals, such as disease. Zoologists need to be able to verbally communicate, as they often give presentations, educating others on wildlife and management issues. Finally, writing skills are imperative, as writing papers, articles and reports could be a big part of a Zoologist's day.

What is the workplace of a Zoologist like?

Some Zoologists work as professors, preferring the classroom instead of being out in the field. Others work in a lab-based environment. Yet others prefer working outdoors, studying and working in wildlife reserves. And of course, some Zoologists actually work at zoos, observing and taking care of animals.

Zoologists who do work out in the field or in remote areas can be away for long periods of time, sometimes weeks or months.

How much does a Zoologist earn?

After landing your first position as a Zoologist, you can expect to receive a salary in the low to mid $30,000 range. Your pay increases when your educational level exceeds a bachelor's degree. And of course, as you gain experience in the field, your wages gradually increase.

As of 2011, the mean wage for a Zoologist is $61,880 per year, the bottom 10 percent earning approximately $36,000 and the top 10 percent earning approximately $94,000.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment in the field of Zoology and Wildlife Biology is expected to increase 7 percent between the years 2010 and 2020.

Learn more about being a Zoologist