Zoologists are life scientists who study animals, observing them in the laboratory and in their natural habitat. They study the origin and development of species as well as their habits, behaviors and interactions. Zoologists, who also research the development of animal diseases, sometimes known as animal scientists or animal biologists because zoology is the branch of biology that deals with the animal kingdom.
Zoology is a wide field offering many career opportunities for research, especially because there still is a great deal to learn about it. A career in zoology offers an opportunity to make a difference to the planet’s ecology through conservation work. Most zoologists are employed by colleges and universities, where they engage in research and teach students.
In general, all zoology specializations involve work with animals, either in the wild or in a lab. Some zoologists study the entire organism while other zoologists study only parts of an organism. Also, zoology is not merely an observational pastime for natural history buffs; it involves analytical research and experimental laboratory components, just as all other biological sciences do. As with other disciplines, zoologists work outdoors in the field and in laboratories using a wide variety of scientific equipment. Some zoologists conduct field research in remote areas and harsh climates, which can involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living conditions.
County, state and federal agencies employ zoologists in a wide range of positions, and sometimes the hiring agency might not be related directly to zoology. The Department of Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey are two good examples. Many of these jobs involve research, and some can include work in the regulation and enforcement of environmental laws.
Zoologists also can find careers in industry and private business. For example, some industries employ field biologists to monitor and manage effluent production, land use around a factory and environmental health.
Examples of typical job duties for a zoologist are as follows:
- Monitoring wildlife health and creating recovery plans
- Communicating with the public by conducting field trips to point out scientific, historic and natural features of a park
- Setting up equipment to monitor and collect pollutants from sites, such as smoke stacks, manufacturing plants and mechanical equipment
- Conducting experimental studies indoors and outdoors
- Studying the origin, interrelationships, classification, life histories, diseases, development, genetics and distribution of organisms in basic research.
Daily tasks vary widely based on the specific career in zoology. The following are a few key tasks for some of the available zoology roles:
A zookeeper’s role includes preparing animals’ meals; caring for animals; cleaning enclosures; monitoring and recording behavior; ensuring the animals are healthy; grooming, exercising and training animals; and talking to visiting groups about the animals.
Among other duties, wildlife educators reside at the study location and research and explore various intricacies of wildlife behavior; research and write information for use in printed materials and on websites; prepare information for educational visits; design and prepare displays; and buy or raise animals for exhibition.
Researchers perform experiments; identify new data achieved through research; use data to help solve environmental or health problems; breed and raise specimens; dissect animals and preserve their bodies; use computers, microscopes and other equipment to analyze and record findings; prepare collections of preserved specimens or slides for identification and study; research species in their natural surroundings; collect specimens to study in the lab; collect or catalog species; write papers and give speeches; and prepare grant proposals to obtain funding.
Wildlife rehabilitators care for ill, injured and orphaned wild animals and birds; release animals back into their habitat; and acquire relevant permits from state and federal wildlife agencies.
Students planning careers as field biologists need strong mathematical skills and should like working with computers. Perseverance, curiosity and the ability to concentrate on details and work independently are essential.
In addition to basic biological knowledge, interested students should seek opportunities to demonstrate they can work well with a wide variety of people. Good oral and written communication skills are critical, as many scientists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals and have contact with clients or customers with nonscience backgrounds.
Experience through internships, undergraduate research or co-op programs is valued highly by employers and graduate schools. Although there are career opportunities for zoologists with only a bachelor’s degree, many professional field biologists hold either a master’s degree or a Ph.D. For this reason, individuals interested in careers in zoology should give careful consideration to graduate study and should research the different jobs available at the B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. levels as part of choosing a major of study.
The average salary range for a zoologist in the initial stages of his or her career is $30,000 to $45,000 per year. After five years of work experience, the range is $40,000 to $55,000 per year. After 10 years of work experience, the range is $45,000 to $65,000 per year. For senior zoologists (20 or more years of work experience), salary range is $55,000 to $80,000 per year.