How to Become a Zoologist
Zoology is a branch of biology with a concentration on studying animals, their behavior, and their bodies. Zoologists are trained professionals whose work is vital to the field of biology, in that they study and provide care for animals and wildlife of all varieties.
What does a zoologist do?
Zoologists are primarily scientists that happen to work in the field of biology. Any scientist whose studies focus on animals or wildlife is working in the field of zoology — this umbrella title covers many different areas of animal research. Zoologists look at the origin of species, the processes that make up the lives of animals, animal behavior, and diseases and injuries to wildlife. Zoologists often study animals (either in their natural habitat or in captivity) to learn more about how they live. Depending on the animal being studied, it may only be possible to study them in artificial or laboratory surroundings; this is especially true for endangered animals.
Zoologists look at many things in their attempt to understand an animal species — how different animals interact with one another, or how they react to changes in their habitat. This last type of study is becoming especially critical now that humans are concerned with how we affect our world. Some zoologists will work directly with zoos to create adequate environments both for animals and for human patrons. Other zoologists spend their time in an animal’s natural habitat in order to understand their patterns of behavior. Still other zoologists are more in line with veterinarians, providing care for animals either in zoos or veterinary offices. The term “zoologist” has many different uses, and depending on what group of animals a zoologist focuses on, they may operate under a different name. For example, mammalogists study mammals, ornithologists study birds, herpetologists study reptiles, and primatologists study primates.
What is a day at work like for a zoologist?
If a zoologist works at a zoo, they will most likely work in one of three fields, either curating, directing, or zookeeping.
The curator oversees the care of animals in a zoo environment, while the director does not work directly with the animals but acts more as an administrator or manager. The director of a zoo works closely with fundraising practices, PR for the zoo, and the daily maintenance of the zoo environment. Though this sounds more like a person with a business degree, zoo directors almost always work their way up the ranks at a zoo, only becoming the director after years of work as a zoologist in another capacity.
Curators and directors are a tight knit team — they must work together (along with zookeepers) to figure out the best way to contain different animals, keep up their habitats, and manage the daily operation of the zoo itself. In general, a good zoo director will have an education in biology as well as experience or education in business administration.
The zookeeper is the most visible of the zoologists, providing daily care to animals including feeding, cleaning of habitats, and monitoring animals for illness. While zoo curators are in charge of the zoo’s budgetary concerns, the zookeeper is charged with carrying out that mission. The zoo curator leads the zookeeper staff, writing scientific research articles along the way to boost their income and raise attention for their zoo.
While the director and curator handle the financial side of the zoo, the health of the animals themselves is in the hands of the zookeeper, whose job it is to feed the animals a unique and specialized diet and to take care of their zoo habitat. A zookeeper often grooms animals as well, cleaning up the animal and the ground they walk on. Zookeepers work directly with the animals, recording their activities and taking note of any strange behavior that could indicate a disease or problem with the habitat. That’s why a zookeeper is more than a glorified cage cleaner — they must understand animal behavior very well. On top of all that, zookeepers are expected to answer zoo patron’s questions, and handle any emergencies that come up, such as an animal illness. Zookeepers, while well compensated for their work, are responsible for working very long hours at a stretch.
What kind of training does a zoologist need?
A good zoologist has doctoral degree in zoology or another related area of biology. A Master’s degree is often adequate for some zoo positions, but in order to rise up to the rank of curator or director, that PhD will come in handy. Classes in biology, chemistry, and mathematics are a must. Another great way to get work in a zoo is to start out as a volunteer or part-time employee at a zoo near your college. Work in veterinary clinics, on a farm or any place that lets you get hands-on experience with animals is also acceptable. At the end of their degree, zoologists often go through internship programs to get work in the field of zoology.
How much money do zoologists make?
The average zoologist pay in 2010 is between $51,748 and $77,919, with the total most dependant on a zoologist’s level of education and the region in which they work. The highest paid zoologists (working as curators or directors of large zoo) can easily earn annual salaries of over $100,000.
The benefits of working as a zoologist go beyond the financial — you can earn a lot of money working at a zoo, but it often takes years of volunteer work and expensive college classes to start earning at the higher end of their salary scale. A true passion for animals will get you through the lean years, as will the kind of intrigue a true scientist has naturally.
A career as a zoologist is extremely rewarding for people who love animals. Zoologists are special people, scientists who can work alone or as part of a team of biologists. If you are interested in a career as a zoologist, study math and science, earn an advanced degree in biology, and start volunteering at your local zoo.