What Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Do
Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems.
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.
The median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $63,270 in May 2019.
Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. 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.
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:
- 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
- Develop and implement programs to reduce risk to human activities from wildlife and invasive species, such as keeping wildlife from impacting airport operations or livestock and crop production
- 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 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:
- 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.
- Malacologists study mollusks, such as snails and clams.
- Mammalogists study mammals, such as monkeys and bears.
- Ornithologists study birds, such as hawks and penguins.
- Teuthologists study cephalopods, such as octopuses and cuttlefish.
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:
- Anatomy is the study of structure of organisms and their parts.
- Embryology is the study of the development of embryos and fetuses.
- Ethology, sometimes called behavioral ecology, is the study of animal behaviors as natural or adaptive traits.
- Histology, or microscopic anatomy, is the study of cells and tissues in plants and animals.
- Physiology is the study of the normal function of living systems.
- Soil zoology is the study of animals which live fully or partially in the soil.
- Teratology is the study of abnormal physiological development.
- Zoography is the study of descriptive zoology, and describes plants and animals.
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 held about 21,000 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of zoologists and wildlife biologists were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||39%|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||21|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||9|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private||8|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||4|
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.
Injuries and Illnesses
Some zoologists and wildlife biologists handle wild animals or spend significant amounts of time outdoors in difficult terrain or in inclement weather. To avoid injury, they should use caution 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.
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||Median Annual Pay, May 2019|
Agricultural and Food Scientists
Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.
Animal Care and Service Workers
Animal care and service workers attend to animals.
|High school diploma or equivalent||$24,990|
Biochemists and Biophysicists
Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes.
|Doctoral or professional degree||$94,490|
Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.
Conservation Scientists and Foresters
Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.
Environmental Scientists and Specialists
Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.
Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites.
Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.
|See How to Become One||$79,540|
Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to protect public health.
|Doctoral or professional degree||$95,460|
For more information about zoologists and wildlife biologists, visit
For more information about issues in zoology and wildlife biology, visit
For more information about careers in botany, visit
For more information about careers in ecology, visit
For information on federal government education requirements for zoologists and wildlife biologists, visit
To find job openings for zoologists and wildlife biologists in the federal government, visit
Related BLS Articles
For more information about a career as an ornithologist (a type of zoologist), see the Career Outlook article “You’re a What? Ornithologist”
For a career video on zoologists and wildlife biologists, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/zoologists-and-wildlife-biologists.htm (visited ).