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How to Become a Zoologist

Scientists have estimated that there are approximately 8.7 million species of plants, fungi, and animals on Earth. Between 1 and 2 million of these species are believed to be animals. Tasked with observing and studying these animals are zoologists. Zoologists are dedicated animal lovers who often travel far and wide to study various species in their habitats. As wildlife continues to adjust to climate change and the impact of human activity, the role of a zoologist will remain important for endangered populations. 

But, what do you need to become a zoologist? For an entry-level position, it almost always begins with a college degree. Becoming a zoologist can start by achieving a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or Ph.D. Popular degrees include Animal Health and BehaviorWildlife Conservation, and Wildlife and Fisheries Biology.

a zoologist taking care of an aardvark

In this article, we’ll identify how to become a zoologist by walking through the steps to becoming a zoologist. You’ll also learn about the different branches of zoology. This way, you’ll know exactly how to be a zoologist with the specialization that suits you best.

Education Requirements 4-Year Bachelor’s Degree
Recommended Degree Program B.S. in Animal Health and Behavior, Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology
Average Salary (2020) $70,510
Zoologists Employed in U.S. (2020) 18,500
Projected Job Added by 2030 1,000
Projected Growth Rate 5%
Other Job Titles Zookeeper, Zoological Field Assistant
Related Careers Wildlife Biologist, Marine Biologist

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistic, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists, May 2020

What Does a Zoologist Do?

So, what does a zoologist do, anyway? A zoologist studies animals both in the wild and captivity. By observing various species in their habitats, zoologists understand how animals behave in the wild. Their goal is to identify and monitor how different species interact within their ecosystem. This is particularly important as climate change continues to transform various habitats.

They may work indoors, conducting laboratory experiments and developing reports to present their findings. However, many zoologists work outdoors and travel often, collecting specimens, gathering data, monitoring, and managing wildlife populations.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animal behavior in various environments. They observe and measure the physical characteristics of various species, monitor their diet, track migration patterns and reproduction rates, and address any threats they may be facing. For animals in the wild, threats might be invasive pests, diseases, or toxins that appear in their environment. Addressing the impact of humans on these species, too, zoologists will develop conservation plans to protect endangered species and may manage hunting programs.

What does it take to be a zoologist? Dedication, patience, strong communication skills, computer experience, analytical thinking, leadership prowess, and excellent teamwork skills are vital. There are many advantages of being a zoologist, especially for those who love science, working with animals, and being outdoors.

Since it can be a physically challenging position, the zoologist job description requires that professionals are in a healthy physical condition. They may carry equipment and large food containers, trek uphill in inclement weather, or diving deep into the ocean.

Where Do Zoologists Work?

For a Zoologist, work environments can vary. Some may work exclusively in offices and laboratories. Others might teach at museums and universities. Many spend the majority of their time outdoors gathering field data and studying rare animals in their natural habitats. Depending on their specific position or branch of study, a zoologist’s job description can vary widely but is impactful everywhere.

Zoos, Wildlife Centers, Parks, & Aquaria

Do zoologists work in zoos? Of course, they do! Well, at least some of them do. In zoos, wildlife centers, national parks, and aquariums, wildlife specialists manage a variety of species.

But, what do zoologists do at zoos? As zookeepers, researchers, and trainers, they care for the animals, observe animal behavior, provide enrichment to stimulate healthy behaviors, train animals, and keep enclosures clean, safe, and comfortable. When it comes to breeding programs, zoologists have the training needed to maintain healthy captive populations, restore wild populations, and address threats.

Wildlife Conservation or Rehabilitation Groups & Non-Profits,

Wildlife conservation groups often hire zoologists to help them effectively rehabilitate and release animals. At these non-profit organizations, zoologists can use their expertise to plan conservation and ecotourism initiatives within local communities or to lobby governments.

Academia, Museums, & Offices

Some wildlife biologists and zoologists become museum curators. In this role, they may manage specimens, conduct research, and share their knowledge with the public. It’s also not uncommon for a zoologist to become a teacher, professor, or another faculty member at a university. They may present findings through presentations, reports, and research articles.

Laboratories & Pharmaceutical Companies

A research zoologist may be hired by a pharmaceutical company or private medical research company to test new vermin control drugs or veterinary medicines. Their intimate knowledge of animals living both in the wild and in captivity makes zoologists well-equipped to conduct scientific lab studies on varying species.

Zoology Jobs & Description

Typically work full-time workers, a zoologist’s work hours can be long and irregular. A zoologist work schedule will vary based on their role and the species being studied. Nocturnal animals, for example, will likely be observed during the night.

A zoologist may work exclusively indoors or they could travel for fieldwork to remote locations around the world. For a zoologist, working conditions might involve difficult terrain and harsh weather. They may travel to scorching deserts, arctic tundras, or into the deep sea for their research.

General Zoologist Job Responsibilities

A zoologist’s primary responsibilities can vary, but typically they will be expected to:

  • Observe animals in the wild and captivity
  • Track animal life cycles
  • Assess wild species populations
  • Map habitat ranges using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software
  • Collect, process, and prepare specimens
  • Analyze data and observations and evaluate results
  • Write reports, prepare documents, and publish journals
  • Advocacy and public speaking for wildlife and conservation efforts
  • Network with scientists, professionals, and advocacy groups
  • Review research and scientific literature in their field
  • Consult on and implement habitat migration and reproduction rates
  • Conduct or oversee wildlife population surveys
  • Track migration patterns and observe interactions between species
  • Plan and prepare a wildlife management plan and monitor trends

Advanced Zoologist Job Duties

As they advance in their careers, a zoologist may be offered a senior role. In this leadership position, a senior zoologist will have a few other responsibilities. This can include:

  • Analyzing data for reporting and overseeing the paperwork
  • Communicating with clients, government departments, colleagues, and field experts
  • Drafting written reports and planning verbal presentations or speeches
  • Planning and scheduling research trips
  • Designing budgets and timelines for lab and field projects
  • Handling peer-review data inquiries
  • Consulting with agency working groups, government agencies, and engineers
  • Reviewing records, reports, and assessments
  • Navigating environmental regulations and environmental approvals processes
  • Evaluating national and international wildlife initiatives
  • Manage and consult on endangered species populations

What are the different types of zoology?

Zoologists usually specialize in studying either vertebrate or invertebrate animals. Once they have made that decision, they can become an expert in a particular species. There are roughly 10 main specializations for zoologists.

  • Cetologists study marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.
  • Mammalogists focus on land mammals, instead, like monkeys, foxes, and bears.
  • Ornithologists study birds, from owls and hawks to turkeys and penguins.
  • Herpetologists specialize in reptiles and amphibians including snakes and frogs.
  • Entomologists prefer to study insects, from beetles to butterflies.
  • Parasitologists are experts in parasites, their hosts, and the relationship between them.
  • Ichthyologists spend time in aquatic environments studying wild fish like sharks.
  • Teuthologists are also marine-oriented. They focus specifically on cephalopods like squid and octopus.
  • Malacologists study Mollusks like snails, slugs, and clams. They might also cover octopus and squids, as well, however, they aren’t restricted to marine environments.
  • Paleozoologists specialize in ancient animal remains and fossilized species.

How Much Does a Zoologist Make?

As of November 2021, the average salary of a zoologist is reported to be around $70,510, and most work full-time. This works out to about $31 earned per hour. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for zoologists was $66,350 in May 2020.

Those who worked within the federal government had the highest median salary. Federal wages reached $81,530 compared with state government employees who earned closer to $59,660. In general, the lowest 10% of zoologists earned below $41,720. The highest 10% earned more than $106,320,

Zoologist Salary By State

State Workers Employed Annual mean wage Annual 10th percentile wage Annual 90th percentile wage
District of Columbia 90 $113,310 $75,870 $170,790
Massachusetts 370 $94,380 $49,480 $153,610
New Jersey 110 $83,920 $50,280 $112,450
Hawaii 270 $83,250 $51,440 $133,500
Maryland 330 $83,050 $45,450 $145,580
New York 340 $81,990 $55,610 $112,930
Washington 1940 $81,960 $53,070 $125,100
California 1630 $81,520 $46,690 $122,110
Connecticut 60 $81,400 $58,830 $111,080
Alaska 730 $80,950 $54,000 $111,140
Oregon 880 $77,100 $54,670 $99,750
Iowa 90 $75,360 $58,400 $90,460
Rhode Island 90 $75,190 $56,180 $94,040
Pennsylvania 160 $73,470 $52,900 $102,870
Colorado 540 $73,360 $53,650 $97,440
Mississippi 230 $73,010 $39,990 $118,390
Virginia 340 $71,920 $43,440 $106,090
Vermont 80 $70,590 $58,170 $83,870
Idaho 380 $69,430 $47,940 $97,200
Illinois 200 $69,330 $37,870 $111,180
North Dakota 120 $69,180 $48,450 $86,070
Tennessee 150 $69,030 $45,950 $92,080
Louisiana 60 $68,880 $19,120 $99,750
New Mexico 170 $68,130 $45,410 $100,350
Montana 340 $68,070 $49,850 $91,520
Michigan 350 $67,530 $47,050 $86,960
Nevada 180 $67,530 $50,700 $83,930
New Hampshire 80 $66,470 $46,900 $89,320
Texas 460 $65,320 $29,040 $100,450
North Carolina 360 $64,810 $43,090 $102,090
Maine 250 $64,640 $46,930 $81,080
Wyoming 260 $64,490 $48,440 $78,950
Georgia 230 $64,150 $43,510 $99,750
Arizona 380 $63,710 $39,450 $93,970
Minnesota 670 $62,370 $32,370 $86,120
Wisconsin 340 $62,170 $35,860 $92,070
Ohio 220 $61,410 $36,080 $92,430
West Virginia 90 $60,970 $39,740 $97,180
Alabama 190 $59,940 $40,780 $83,870
Missouri 300 $57,770 $38,770 $81,610
Kansas 180 $57,170 $47,860 $70,420
South Dakota 160 $56,700 $37,810 $78,950
Nebraska 190 $56,550 $41,760 $72,540
Indiana 200 $56,310 $35,520 $85,020
Utah 300 $55,740 $37,100 $79,460
Puerto Rico 30 $55,480 $33,780 $89,510
Kentucky 130 $55,260 $41,100 $67,860
South Carolina 210 $53,380 $32,700 $76,800
Florida 1580 $53,100 $32,430 $89,800

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program (May 2020)

What is the job outlook for a Zoologist?

For a zoologist, career outlook will continue to grow between 2020 and 2030. In the next 10-years, the zoologist job outlook is expected to grow by 5%. That’s as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for zoologists will grow as human populations grow and climate change continues. Currently, there are about 18,500 zoologist and wildlife biology jobs available. This number is projected to grow as 1,000 more jobs are introduced across the country.

Still, wildlife specialists will face strong competition when seeking the zoologist job available to them. To stand out, eager young professionals should work to gain practical experience at internships, summer work placements, or volunteer jobs after graduation.

What Education is Needed to Become a Zoologist?

Zoologist High School Requirements

You can begin preparing for a career in zoology when you’re still in high school by focusing on your studies. Classes in English, Writing, History, Computer Science, and Humanities will be important. However, Math and Science courses such as Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Comparative Anatomy will be vital.

Since zoologists study a broad range of topics in Natural Science, experience with both classroom and laboratory work can be a smart way to get ahead. Outside of school, volunteering at zoos, local animal shelters, kennels, or at an aquarium can look great on an application, too. It all helps to showcase a proactive passion for working with wildlife.

Zoologist College Education Requirements

Do you need a degree to be a zoologist?

The short answer is yes. But, what does a zoologist study? Aspiring zoologists will likely need to enroll in an undergraduate degree program such as Animal Health and Behavior, Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, Marine Biology and Sustainable Aquaculture, or Captive Wildlife Care. There are degree programs specific to zoology, too, which may be the most relevant training for a career in zoology. High-level scientific investigation usually requires a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. is almost always essential for university or independent research positions.

What subjects do you need to be a zoologist?

Coursework should cover natural sciences subjects including Biology, Chemistry, Advanced Mathematics, Ecology, Botany, Physiology, and Vertebrate Zoology. In college, classes that cover Anatomy, Wildlife Management, and Cellular Biology will be useful. Internships and volunteer work can be a big help, too.

How long does it take to become a zoologist?

The required number of years to become a zoologist may vary depending on the position you hope to achieve. It takes 4-years to earn a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Conservation or Animal Health and Behavior, for example, which is the basic level of zoologist education needed to enter the field.

Earning a Master’s degree will usually take another 2-years and may call for an additional 30-hours of practical, field-specific work. Advanced positions may even require a Ph.D. – which could result in 5 to 7 more years of academic rigor.

Additional Certifications and Licenses

For a zoologist, education requirements do not typically include certifications or licensing. There is not currently a national certification for zoologists in general, however, particular fields of zoology may have their certifications. For example, a zoologist working within the field of Marine Biology may consider earning their SCUBA certification for deep-water research. Others may prioritize keeping their GIS certificate up-to-date so they can continue to efficiently gather data out in the field. 

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Recommended Degrees


A Zoology minor covers many aspects of animal biology including their cellular biology and genetics. Students can focus on specific areas of study within zoology, such as Ornithology.

B.S. Animal Health and Behavior

A degree in Animal Health and Behavior provides the necessary skills and knowledge to care for animals in captivity and the wild, with an emphasis on animal welfare and behavior. This degree is ideal for students interested in pursuing work as a zookeeper or animal rehabilitator.   

B.S. Marine Biology and Sustainable Aquaculture

For those interested in working with marine animals, this degree prepares students for a broad range of careers helping protect, preserve, maintain, and grow marine organisms and environments. B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Biology

Getting a bachelor’s in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology is also a smart way to enter the field of zoology. It includes coursework specific to animal biology and sustainable habitat management.

B.S. Wildlife Conservation

This degree focuses on the conservation and management of natural populations and their changing habitats – an important consideration, especially in this time of change.

B.S. Captive Wildlife Care

Animal welfare, environmental enrichment, and population management and conservation are key concepts in this Bachelor’s program. This course presents students with the opportunity to work closely with many species at organizations like the

M.P.S Wildlife Conservation and Management

This Master’s in Wildlife Conservation and Management focuses on understanding the environment in the context of sustainability science. It’s a suitable concentration for aspiring zoologists.

M.P.S Animal Science and Behavior

The Master of Professional Science in Animal Science and Behavior provides students with a deep understanding of human-animal interaction, with an emphasis on animal companionship, therapy and service, behavior, rehabilitation and welfare. Students develop leadership and management skills, and coursework in this degree prepares them for careers as animal trainers, rehabilitators, and managers or directors of animal service businesses.

Minor in Wildlife Ecology

A minor in Ecology complements other environmental majors and can be beneficial to students looking to address environmental issues in their careers. This degree also includes coursework related to mammalogy, entomology, ichthyology, and other zoological branches.

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