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 Zoology and Wildlife Biology.

how to become a zoologist

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.

What Does a Zoologist Do?

So, what’s a zoologist, 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 these wildlife specialists manage a variety of species.

But, what do zoologists do at zoos? As zookeepers, researchers, and trainers, they care for the animals, ensure proper distribution, and keep their enclosures comfortable. When it comes to breeding programs, zoologists have the training needed to 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 software (Geographic Information Systems)
  • 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?

The average salary of a zoologist is around $60,000, and most work full-time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for zoologists was $63,420 in May 2018. Those who worked within the federal government had the highest median salary. Federal wages reached $78,080 compared with state government employees who earned closer to $57,020. In general, the lowest 10% of zoologists earned below $40,290. The highest 10% earned more than $102,830.

Zoologist Salary By State

U.S. State or TerritoryZoologists & Wildlife Biologists
Employed (May 2018)
Average Annual Wage25th Percentile Annual Salary75th Percentile Annual Salary
Alabama130$57,600$45,540$71,930
Alaska670$76,640$62,890$87,680
Arizona340$62,950$50,320$73,720
California2,240$75,840$53,130$91,050
Colorado570$70,650$59,250$78,660
Connecticut60$78,830$63,360$94,590
District of Columbia90$109,420$88,130$129,860
Florida1,370$51,950$35,030$56,590
Georgia170$63,890$51,500$71,420
Hawaii200$73,660$54,940$85,370
Idaho490$69,430$54,940$79,600
Illinois240$57,920$44,270$70,590
Indiana60$65,180$49,850$77,290
Iowa80$68,670$61,840$71,980
Kansas180$53,550$47,090$57,030
Kentucky250$59,190$46,590$63,950
Louisiana50$68,590$52,290$80,580
Maine250$59,360$48,610$66,870
Maryland320$83,850$56,230$109,620
Massachusetts350$87,950$62,380$109,320
Michigan320$65,220$50,420$76,230
Minnesota700$61,220$49,650$70,540
Mississippi210$68,000$46,920$80,720
Missouri380$52,990$41,780$62,070
Montana360$66,770$53,520$75,510
Nebraska170$60,060$47,140$68,860
Nevada180$69,270$54,190$77,550
New Hampshire70$67,950$56,650$78,120
New Jersey130$66,700$45,740$86,350
New Mexico180$58,730$48,610$68,940
New York370$75,290$59,670$86,440
North Carolina430$59,760$44,950$66,540
North Dakota110$69,890$56,720$78,690
Ohio150$57,370$38,150$65,480
Oklahoma130$48,330$30,780$60,730
Oregon950$73,430$62,050$79,600
Pennsylvania220$68,570$54,000$79,600
Puerto Rico40$49,100$33,300$61,220
Rhode Island80$70,600$55,600$77,920
South Carolina80$62,680$42,190$79,590
South Dakota190$53,810$42,550$61,920
Tennessee90$65,550$55,100$77,230
Texas400$66,150$49,630$80,220
Utah260$59,110$43,030$65,310
Vermont90$67,560$57,450$76,170
Virginia250$64,970$51,620$75,760
Washington2,370$75,400$57,660$88,060
Wisconsin310$59,090$51,150$66,480
Wyoming310$62,040$53,310$70,040

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program (May 2018)

What is the job outlook for a Zoologist?

For a zoologist, career outlook will continue to grow between 2018 and 2028. 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 19,300 zoologist jobs available. This number is projected to grow as 900 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 Conservation Biology, Wildlife Biology or Ecology. 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 including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Advanced Mathematics, Ecology, Botany, Physiology, and Invertebrate Zoology. In college, classes that cover Ecology, 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 amount 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 Zoology, 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. Online undergraduates can even choose a concentration in environmental GIS.

Recommended Degrees

Zoology

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.

Wildlife Biology

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

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.

Sustainable Natural Resource Management

This Master’s in Sustainable Natural Resource Management focuses on understanding the environment in the context of sustainability science. It’s a suitable concentration for aspiring zoologists.

Captive Wildlife Care and Education

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

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.