Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Summary

zoologists and wildlife biologists image
Zoologists and wildlife biologists often work outdoors in the field gathering data and studying animals in their natural habitats.
Quick Facts: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
2015 Median Pay $59,680 per year
$28.69 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 21,300
Job Outlook, 2014-24 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 800

What Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Do

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.

Work Environment

Zoologists and wildlife biologists work in offices, laboratories, or outdoors. Depending on their job, they may spend considerable time in the field gathering data and studying animals in their natural habitats.

How to Become a Zoologist or Wildlife Biologist

Zoologists and wildlife biologists 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.

Pay

The median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $59,680 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. More zoologists and wildlife biologists will be needed to study the impact that human population growth and development has on 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.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for zoologists and wildlife biologists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of zoologists and wildlife biologists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about zoologists and wildlife biologists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Do About this section

Zoologists and wildlife biologists
Marine biologists study fish and other wildlife that inhabit the oceans.

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
  • 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
  • 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. 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 that involving 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 in order to increase 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.
  • Mammalogists study mammals, such as monkeys and bears.
  • Ornithologists study birds, such as hawks and penguins.
  • Teuthologists study cephalopods, such as octopuses and cuttlefish.

Some zoologists and wildlife biologists specialize in studying wildlife according to the type of water or land where the wildlife lives. 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.

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:

  • Botanists study plants, including their growth, diseases, and structures. Agronomists study the particular 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 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 About this section

Zoologists and wildlife biologists
Fieldwork can require zoologists and wildlife biologists to travel to remote locations anywhere in the world.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists held about 21,300 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most zoologists and wildlife biologists were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 33%
Federal government, excluding postal service 21
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 10
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 8
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 7

They 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, 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. 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, 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 because interpersonal contact may be limited.

Work Schedules

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.

How to Become a Zoologist or Wildlife Biologist About this section

Zoologists and wildlife biologists
Zoologists and wildlife biologists study specimens collected in the field.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists 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.

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 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 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, 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 characteristics, such as changes in its 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 outdoor skills. They may need to be able to drive a tractor, 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.

Advancement

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.

Pay About this section

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Median annual wages, May 2015

Life scientists

$72,090

Zoologists and wildlife biologists

$59,680

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $59,680 in May 2015. 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 $39,180, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,390.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for zoologists and wildlife biologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $74,190
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 61,330
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 56,590
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 56,330
State government, excluding education and hospitals 54,520

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

Job Outlook About this section

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Life scientists

6%

Zoologists and wildlife biologists

4%

 

Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. More zoologists and wildlife biologists will be needed to study the impact of human population growth on 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.

Job Prospects

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.

Employment projections data for zoologists and wildlife biologists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Zoologists and wildlife biologists

19-1023 21,300 22,200 4 800 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

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Career InfoNet

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Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of zoologists and wildlife biologists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor's degree $62,470
Animal care and service workers

Animal Care and Service Workers

Animal care and service workers provide care for animals. They feed, groom, bathe, and exercise pets and other nonfarm animals. Job tasks vary by position and place of work.

High school diploma or equivalent $21,260
Biochemists and biophysicists

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.

Doctoral or professional degree $82,150
Biological technicians

Biological Technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Bachelor's degree $41,650
Conservation scientists and foresters

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Bachelor's degree $60,220
Environmental scientists and specialists

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Bachelor's degree $67,460
Microbiologists

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.

Bachelor's degree $67,550
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $72,470
Veterinarians

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Doctoral or professional degree $88,490

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about zoologists and wildlife biologists, visit

The Wildlife Society

Association of Zoos and Aquariums

American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

American Society of Mammalogists

Ornithological Societies of North America

Zoological Association of America

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

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Geological 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

For information on working as an ornithologist (a type of zoologist), see the Career Outlook article “You’re a What? Ornithologist

O*NET

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/zoologists-and-wildlife-biologists.htm (visited July 26, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

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2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

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Entry-level Education

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Work experience in a related occupation

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Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.