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.

Inside this post:

    1. The Differences Between Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

    Although the roles and abilities of zoologists and wildlife biologists overlap, there are big differences between the two professions.

    Zoologists conduct scientific investigations and basic research on particular types of animals, such as birds or amphibians.

    Wildlife biologists study specific ecosystems or animal populations.

    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.

    2. Research is the Backbone of Their Work With Animals

    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.

    3. Types of Zoologist Careers

    Zoologists and wildlife biologists study specific types of animals such as marine animals.

    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 the 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 that 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.

    Zoologists and wildlife biologists held about 19,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of zoologists and wildlife biologists were as follows:

    State government, excluding education and hospitals37%
    Federal government, excluding postal service22%
    Management, scientific, and technical consulting services10%
    Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private9%
    Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences4%

    5. They Spend Workdays in Offices or Out in the Field

    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.

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

    For example, cetologists (marine mammal specialists) studying whale populations may spend months at sea on a research ship.

    Fieldwork can be physically demanding, and zoologists and wildlife biologists work in both warm and cold climates and in all types of weather.

    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.

    6. Education: Bachelor’s to Start, Master’s to Advance, Ph.D. to Lead

    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.

    7. They Have to Speak Clearly to Humans and Calmly with Animals

    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 behavior or appearance.

    Outdoor skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to chop firewood, swim in cold water, navigate rough terrain in poor weather, carry heavy packs or equipment long distances, 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.

    8. The Federal Government Pays the Highest Salaries

    The median annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $63,420 in May 2018.

    The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,830.

    In May 2018, 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$78,080
    Management, scientific, and technical consulting services$69,430
    Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences$60,620
    Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private$60,040
    State government, excluding education and hospitals$57,020

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

    9. Their Job Growth is Average Due to Budget Constraints

    Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

    More 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.

    As the human population grows and expands into new areas, it will expose wildlife to threats such as disease, invasive species, and habitat loss.

    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.

    10. There are Many Resources for These Professions

    For more information about zoologists and wildlife biologists, visit

    The Wildlife Society

    Association of Zoos and Aquariums

    American Society of Mammalogists

    American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

    MarineBio

    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

    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

    Data and job description provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook.