A wildlife biologist holding four goslings in a grassy field

A zoologist or wildlife biologist could...


Design physically and mentally stimulating habitats for zoo animals. A baby orangutan holds onto a rope net Track whales during their migrations to monitor population sizes. Two orcas swimming near the surface in the ocean
Educate park visitors about local wildlife. A child holding an animal skull at an exhibit table Take blood samples from raccoons to monitor levels of rabies and other diseases. Two wildlife biologists extract a blood sample from a raccoon
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Ever wondered what wild animals do all day, where a certain species lives, or how to make sure a species doesn't go extinct? Zoologists and wildlife biologists tackle all these questions. They study the behaviors and habitats of wild animals, while also working to maintain healthy populations, both in the wild and in captivity.
Key Requirements An intense interest in animals and good logic skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus, English; if available, environmental science, statistics
Median Salary
Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist
  $60,520
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
$0
$10,000
$20,000
$30,000
$40,000
$50,000
$60,000
$70,000
$80,000
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
Interview
  • Chris Nadareski, wildlife biologist and peregrine expert for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has a very unique job.
  • Tim Susman, staff zoologist at the University of Minnesota.
  • Meet the zookeeper, Anastasia, at the Houston Zoo.
  • Steve Blair, elasmobranch (shark and ray) specialist at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

A bachelor degree in an natural sciences field such as zoology, ecology, general biology, animal science, or wildlife biology is the minimum requirement for a career in zoology or wildlife biology. However the job market is extremely competitive so higher degrees, like a masters or doctoral degree, may increase chances for career advancement.

In addition to formal education, informal job training through internships and volunteering is recommended. Informal training is a way of showing prospective employers your dedication as well as a valuable way of gaining real world experience. Local museums, aquariums, zoos, and nature preserves often offer volunteer opportunities.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in an natural sciences field such as zoology, ecology, general biology, animal science, or wildlife biology is the minimum requirement for an entry-level position as a zoologist or wildlife biologist. Additional coursework in statistics, data modeling, and computer science are an advantage for zoologists and wildlife biologists who will be focusing on research and need good data-analysis skills.

Because competition for jobs is high, a master's degree can be an advantage. Also, some employers require a master's degree for advancement beyond entry-level positions. A PhD is required for most university-based positions, such as a professor in a zoology department.

Other Qualifications

Zoologists and wildlife biologists interested in conducting research in the field need to be physically fit and capable of carrying packs full of equipment.

Nature of the Work

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study every aspect of wild animals—their origins, behaviors, diseases, habitats, life cycles, population structures, and genetics. Some experiment with live animals in controlled or natural surroundings, while others dissect dead animals to study their physiology and health. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may also collect and analyze biological data to determine the impact that human uses of land and water resources have on local animal populations.

Some zoologists and wildlife biologists are involved in conservation work, helping to understand and preserve at-risk populations of animals. They may also work to set up and maintain good environments for animals in nature preserves and zoos. Zoologists usually are identified by the animal group they study. For example, ornithologists study birds, mammalogists study mammals, herpetologists study reptiles, and ichthyologists study fish.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists, particularly those in academia, may spend a significant amount of time writing. This can take various forms, including scientific articles discussing research results, ecology reports, and funding requests.

Work Environment

Zoologists and wildlife biologists work in a wide variety of positions both indoors and outdoors. They conduct research both in the field and in laboratories or other controlled settings, analyze data using computer models and statistics, and educate the public about their findings.

Research that involves direct observation of the animals in their natural habitat may require long spans of time outdoors in rustic conditions. Occasionally these positions require the zoologist or wildlife biologist to live in remote locations, like in the case of an ornithologist studying the nesting behaviors of King Penguins in Antarctica.

Federal and state agencies, like the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, employ a large number of zoologists and wildlife biologists. Jobs can also be found with universities, typically as professors, zoos, non-profit organizations, museums, environmental consulting firms, and hunting ranches.

On the Job

  • Study animals in their natural habitats, assessing effects of environment and industry on animals, interpreting findings and recommending alternative operating conditions for industry.
  • Inventory or estimate plant and wildlife populations.
  • Analyze characteristics of animals to identify and classify them.
  • Make recommendations on management systems and planning for wildlife populations and habitat, consulting with stakeholders and the public at large to explore options.
  • Disseminate information by writing reports and scientific papers or journal articles, and by making presentations and giving talks for schools, clubs, interest groups and park interpretive programs.
  • Study characteristics of animals such as origin, interrelationships, classification, life histories and diseases, development, genetics, and distribution.
  • Perform administrative duties such as fundraising, public relations, budgeting, and supervision of zoo staff.
  • Organize and conduct experimental studies with live animals in controlled or natural surroundings.
  • Oversee the care and distribution of zoo animals, working with curators and zoo directors to determine the best way to contain animals, maintain their habitats and manage facilities.
  • Coordinate preventive programs to control the outbreak of wildlife diseases.
  • Prepare collections of preserved specimens or microscopic slides for species identification and study of development or disease.
  • Raise specimens for study and observation or for use in experiments.
  • Collect and dissect animal specimens and examine specimens under microscope.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Zoologist and Wildlife Biologists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Science Fair Project Idea
Do you really catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? Do an experiment to find out! Watch the video above to learn how to make a simple homemade fly trap using a plastic bottle. Then, experiment to discover which bait attracts the most flies. You can try a variety of liquids, and you can also use solid bait like rotting food or meat, but you will need to add some water so the flies drown. A drop of soap can help break the surface tension of the water, making it easier for the flies to… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
There is strong interest in "going green," including using products that cause less environmental damage when they are disposed of. In this environmental sciences project, you will compare the toxicity of "green" and conventional liquid detergents using worms as test organisms. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
In this fun science project, you will create a bird feeder from recycled materials that you can set up outside. By observing the birds that come to the bird feeder, you will find out what different kinds of birds live in your area. How many different kinds of birds do you think you will spot? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
In the wild there are two types of animals: the hunters and the hunted. A good predator is always on the prowl for fresh prey. What can an animal do to stay off of the menu? To survive, some animals use camouflage so they can better blend in with their surroundings. In this science project, you will be the hungry predator hunting for M&M® prey. But it may not be as easy as it sounds — some of your prey will be camouflaged by their habitat. Will they be able to avoid your grasp? … Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Ladybugs are common insects in North American gardens that prey upon aphids, making them all the rage in biological pest control. Ladybugs can be bred in captivity making them a good insect to study. Just chop off an aphid infested plant stem for food, make a water soaked cotton ball for water, and add to a small plastic container with a lid to make a breeding box. You can use ladybugs collected from the wild, or buy ladybugs from your local nursery. The most common species is the 12-spotted… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
In this project, water fleas (Daphnia magna), a semi-transparent freshwater crustacean, are used to study the effects of caffeine on heart rate. Don't worry about having to learn how to take a crustacean's pulse: you can actually see the heart beating under a microscope. Many variations of this experiment are possible. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Interested in helping the environment, and don't mind getting dirty? In this project you get to mix it up with earthworms, soil, and various types of organic kitchen scraps. The basic idea is to set up small earthworm colonies to compost different types of food waste. You test the soils in each type to see how diet affects both the earthworm population and the nutrients they put back into the soil. This project takes a little time, but it's worth it. You'll help the environment and learn… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Water striders (also called water bugs, pond skippers, etc.) are insects that can hop around on the surface of water (Figure 1). Unlike boats or other floating objects that are partially submerged and held up by the resulting buoyant force, water striders are held up by surface tension. Figure 1. Water striders (image credit Isaka Yoji). You can build your own water striders using thin wire (Figure 2 and following video). Do some background research… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you know that many consumer products, such as sports clothes, cosmetics, and even food containers contain tiny silver particles? These so-called nanoparticles—usually 1–100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter) in size—are toxic to bacteria and fungi and therefore, are used to prevent them from growing on everyday items you use. But what happens if the silver nanoparticles get into the water; for example, when you wash off your makeup or clean your clothes? Do they… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
One way to test for the presence of toxic compounds in a water sample is a bioassay. In a bioassay, a living organism serves as a detector for toxins—the same way canaries were used in coal mines to detect invisible toxic gases. In this project, water fleas (Daphnia magna), a freshwater crustacean, are used in a bioassay to monitor water quality. Many variations of this experiment are possible. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
This project idea is inspired by former NASA engineer Mark Rober's "Squirrel Ninja Obstacle Course": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFZFjoX2cGg … Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Why is your grandmother always wondering if you are drinking enough milk? Our bones are made out of calcium, a mineral found in milk, and drinking milk can lead to strong healthy bones. What about other animals? What are their bones made of? What kind of bones do they have? Are there animals without bones? Are endoskeletons and exoskeletons made out of the same materials? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you wish that you had duck feet? Aside from being a fun Dr. Seuss story, there is a lot you can learn about hydrodynamics by looking at the feet of birds. How are the feet of birds that swim unique? Find out in this experiment. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you think worms are gross? Or that they are only good for birds or fish to eat? Well, in this zoology science project, you will find out that this lowly animal helps to put food on your table, too, by all the hard work that it does in the dirt. In this science project, you will discover in what kind of soil it likes to do its work. It is wiggly good fun! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Extinct might be a word you associate with animals that lived long ago, like the dinosaurs, but did you know that over 18,000 species are classified as "threatened" (susceptible to extinction) today? Scientists involved in wildlife conservation have a tough job; they are in charge of determining what needs to be done to prevent a species from becoming extinct. Habitat, food supply, and impacts of local human populations are just a few of the factors these scientists take into account. It is a… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Invasive species are organisms (either plant or animal) that have been introduced into a new, non-native area and spread rapidly in the new environment due to a lack of regulation by predators. Frequently, invasive species will out-compete native species for resources which can put native species at risk. This is an especially big problem for threatened habitat and endangered species, which are already at risk. Survey your area to document cases of invasive species invading a local… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
No one can deny the devastating consequences of an oil spill on the local wildlife. Oil affects all levels of the ecosystem, from plants to fish and birds. What happens to water plants if you add motor oil to their pot? What is the effect of motor oil on the health of a goldfish, or water insects? What happens to the barbs of a bird feather if they are dipped in oil? Can you test different types of environmentally-friendly detergents for cleaning the bird feathers? Can you test different… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
A cricket as a thermometer? Yes, that is right! In this science fair project, you will investigate how the chirps of these tiny creatures can do more than lull you to sleep—they can tell you the temperature! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Look out! When you walk on the grass, you are squishing millions of micro-invertebrates! Just kidding, these animals are too small to squish. Learn how to catch them by making a Berlese funnel in this fun project that will teach you about soil. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Caffeine is a type of chemical called a stimulant. When you drink a caffeinated beverage, the caffeine enters into your blood stream dilating the capillaries and causing blood to flow more quickly. This gives your body a feeling of speeding up which can cause the jitters and wakefulness. How does caffeine affect the physiology of other animals? You can use over-the-counter caffeine supplements, like Vivarin, to test the effects of caffeine on animals. Try dissolving the caffeine in… Read more

Ask Questions

Do you have a specific question about a career as a Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.

Sources

Free science fair projects.