Zoologists are men and women who have been trained in zoology, the study of the behavior and evolution of the myriad members of the animal kingdom. Depending on the level of education they have received and the type of work that they do, zoologists may conduct research on animals’ biology, or may serve as caretakers in a park or zoo.
In 2009, there were slightly over 17,000 people employed in the zoological and wildlife biological field in the United States. The average wage for earners in this field was $60,673, which translates to an hourly wage of $29.17. Even zoologists in the lowest ten percent could expect a yearly salary of over $35,000. Earners at the top of the pay scale for zoologists earned over $93,000 a year.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Many zoologists work in the academic field, at colleges and universities. As part of their work, they do research into the biology of the many animals present in the world. They may focus their work on one type of animals, such as mammals, amphibians, birds, or reptiles. In some cases, their work may be so specialized that they focus their attention on one species of animal. Obviously, as with most careers in academia, there is typically an educational component, and many zoologists will teach students of their university about their particular field of study.
Zoologists are also an important part of the care of animals that are part of a zoo or park system. In this environment, there is also an educational component, as the zookeeper teaches members of the general public, especially school-aged children, about the animals in their zoo. They also responsible for maintaining the general care and well-being of the animals under their watch at the zoo. In some cases, especially at smaller zoos, a zoologist may also be asked to take part in some of the business aspects of the zoo, such as budgeting and the hiring of additional staff. Many zoologists also work in the field of environmental conservation, helping animals caught in natural or man-made ecological disasters, and helping to raise awareness of the need to protect the various types of life present on the planet.
Ultimately, the goal of all zoologists is to gain a better understanding of the members of the animal kingdom, to increase our general knowledge of the other creatures that share our planet, and to convey that knowledge to others through education.
Training and Education Requirements
Almost all but the most basic, entry-level jobs in the field of zoology require advanced degrees. A Master’s degree is a minimum requirement for most zookeeping jobs, and a Ph.D. is typically preferred in the educational and research fields. Most zoologists start their educational plan with a Bachelor’s degree in biology, as this is a natural fit for the type of work the zoologist can expect to engage in. If the college or university offers biology degree in a specific concentration, the zoologist can target the specialized field that he or she is interested in becoming involved in.
Since zoology is a field of continuing education, zoologists must constantly update their expertise in their field by staying up to date on the research that others in their field of study are conducting. This is done through subscriptions to academic journals and meetings with others in their profession, such as conferences and conventions.
Other than obtaining either a Master’s or Doctoral degree in the field, there are no certifications for zoologists in general that are required to begin work in the profession. Based of the specific type of work that a zoologist does, however, there may be other certifications that they will find helpful or even mandatory in order to conduct their work. A specialist in the biology of ocean life, for example, will probably find success easier with a diving or SCUBA certification that proves they have been trained in the type of underwater work they will be conducting. Zookeepers, since they often work with the general public, may need to complete training on various rules with federal regulators such as OSHA, as well as state and local regulators.
There are a number of professional organizations in existence to further the personal and professional interests of member of the zoology profession. The American Association of Zoo Keepers is one such group, which is focused on promoting the issues relevant to the nation’s zoological professionals who work in public and private zoos. The World Association for Zoos and Aquariums is another group, that works on a global scale to ensure public awareness of the needs of these important tools for education and conservation. There are a number of other professional organizations as well that focus of the specific needs of each of the specific groups within the zoological field, such as marine biology.
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