If you have a soft spot for wildlife, plenty of careers can indulge your nurturing side. From game wardens who enforce laws that protect wild animals to researchers with nature advocacy groups, wildlife biologists can choose among diverse jobs and work environments. For an entry-level job, be prepared to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. To get hands-on with animals, you may need a master’s or doctoral degree.
Nearly two-thirds of wildlife biologists and zoologists worked for government agencies as of 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service employ biologists to manage and protect habitats, and to rehabilitate injured animals. As game wardens and conservation officers, wildlife biologists enforce regulations to boost wildlife populations. They also educate the public about conservation laws. Agencies that plan land uses hire wildlife biologists to conserve rare species and create natural resources for fishing and bird-watching. Wildlife policy analysts might work for government agencies or members of Congress to craft regulations. State agencies such as transportation departments, health bureaus and parks departments hire biologists to investigate outbreaks of animal disease or conduct environmental assessments.
Zoos and Aquariums
Wildlife biologists work for zoos and aquariums, providing scientific and technical help in the management of animal collections and leading research or conservation projects. Wildlife biologists in zoos and aquariums might focus on specific species. For example, herpetologists study reptiles and amphibians, ichthyologists concentrate on fish, and ornithologists research birds. Regardless of species, wildlife biologists in zoos collect biological specimens for analysis, observe how animals interact with each other and their environments, and give presentations on their findings.
Advocacy groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Audubon Society need biologists to consult on policy issues, conduct research, manage nature preserves and lobby lawmakers. Biologists write proposals for protecting ecological systems and curbing the effects of human activity on animal habitats. In addition, grazing associations and private ranches hire wildlife biologists to manage animal-related enterprises, while consulting firms bring them on to write environmental impact statements.
Colleges and universities hire wildlife biologists to teach wildlife ecology and management courses, and to train future conservationists. At the university level, wildlife biologists also conduct research. Inside elementary, middle and high schools, they teach classes on basic wildlife science. Wildlife biologists with teaching experience can also work for civic groups and urban nature centers, where they lead nature walks and field trips focused on wildlife management.
A bachelor’s degree in zoology or wildlife biology will get you an entry-level job as a research associate. However, wildlife biology is a competitive field, with more job seekers than positions, so a master’s degree can enhance your job prospects. For jobs that allow you to work in close contact with animals on a daily basis, or lead research at the university level, most employers require a Ph.D. in wildlife biology.
- Purdue University: Wildlife Biologist
- University of Montana: Wildlife Biology
- North Carolina State University: Jobs in Wildlife
- California State University, San Bernardino: Wildlife Biologist
- Texas A&M University-Kingsville: Careers in Range and Wildlife Science
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Work Environment
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Zoo Jobs
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Do
- Villanova University: Opportunities with Non-Governmental Organizations
- David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images