The Working Zoologist

Five Career Twists for Animal and Wildlife Enthusiasts

Wildlife rehabilitation is one of the many career paths you might choose if you want to work with animals.
Wildlife rehabilitation is one of the many career paths you might choose if you want to work with animals. Photo © Status Productions / iStockphoto.

Do you ever wonder how to employ your interest in animals and wildlife? This article examines some of the career paths that you might consider, from animal behaviorists to zoo keepers to wildlife educators and beyond.

Many zoologists and wildlife enthusiasts participate in research or teach at universities. There are also a variety of occupations that enable you to work with animals at zoos, conservation organizations, national parks, and nature reserves.

Here we'll explore the many options you have when looking for work that involves animals and wildlife.

Zoo keeper

A zoo keeper is responsible for caring for animals and their enclosures. Zoo keepers are employed by zoos, aquariums, and safari parks. A zoo keeper's activities include preparing meals, cleaning enclosures, and monitoring animal behavior. Depending on the animal in question, a zoo keeper might also groom and exercise animals. A zoo keeper should enjoy working with animals and be attentive to the needs of the animals that they care for. Some of the responsibilities a zoo keeper might be expected to take on include: 

  • Preparing food for animals
  • Feeding animals and ensuring they have adequate water
  • Ensuring animals have clean bedding
  • Cleaning pens and enclosures
  • Monitoring animals for signs of disease, stress, or injury
  • Helping to care for sick or injured animals
  • Keeping records of animal care, health, and treatment

    Animal and Wildlife Educator

    Zoos, aquariums, parks, and museums employ educators and program developers to create a variety of materials—brochures, videos, guided tours, exhibits. These materials strive to educate visitors about animals, habitat, and wildlife. Opportunities range from volunteer positions to full-time staff positions.

    As an educator, you can also create content for books, magazines, newspapers, and web-media. Some of the responsibilities an animal and wildlife educator might be expected to take on include:

    • Researching and writing brochures and educational materials
    • Hosting talks and guided tours for groups of visitors
    • Providing education programs and presentations at schools and other institutions

    Zoo Curator

    Zoo curators are responsible for the acquisition of animals for the zoo. Such acquisitions occur primarily through captive breeding programs. Occasionally, animals are traded among zoos or, on rare occasions, animals are collected from the wild. The collection, trade, and transport of animals is regulated by government agencies; consequently the zoo curator acts as a liaison between these agencies and the zoo. Additionally, the zoo curator plays a role in the administration of zoo functions and captive breeding programs. Zoo curators usually are required to have a bachelor’s degree at a minimum with knowledge of biology, zoology, marine biology, or herpetology. Some of the responsibilities a zoo curator might be expected to take on include: 

    • Acquiring animals from the wild or from other zoos
    • Supervising the breeding activities of captive animals
    • Developing education and information for the zoo
    • Participating in the development or improvement of enclosures
    • Studying animals in the wild to improve animal care and breeding practices within the zoo

    Wildlife Rehabilitator

    Wildlife rehabilitation is the process of caring for ill, injured or orphaned wild animals and releasing them back in to their habitat once able to care for themselves. A wildlife rehabilitator often steps in when human activity has caused harm to wildlife: oil spills, lumbering activity, trapping, hunting. Rehabilitators must acquire permits from state and federal wildlife agencies before they can care for or handle wildlife. Wildlife rehabilitation combines animal husbandry, veterinary science, animal behavior, and zoology. Wildlife rehabilitators usually work under the direction of licensed veterinarians.

    Some of the responsibilities a wildlife rehabilitator might be expected to take on include:

    • Treating sick, orphaned, or injured animals
    • Releasing healed animals back into wild habitats
    • Educating the public regarding wildlife rehabilitation

    Animal Behaviorist

    Animal behaviorists study the science of animal behavior. Animal behaviorists can perform a variety of jobs including training zoologists and other zoo employees how to interact with and care for animals. Animal behaviorists are often trained in ethology—the study of animal behavior—and have experience working first-hand with animals. Animal behaviorists might also participate in research that seeks to learn more about how animals obtain and manage resources, reproduce, care for their young, deal with predators, communicate, and select mates. Some of the responsibilities an animal behaviorist might be expected to take on include:

    • Conducting scientific studies on various aspects of animal behavior
    • Providing education to other professionals that work with animals
    • Providing education to the public
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    Klappenbach, Laura. "The Working Zoologist." ThoughtCo, Dec. 21, 2015, thoughtco.com/the-working-zoologist-129099. Klappenbach, Laura. (2015, December 21). The Working Zoologist. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-working-zoologist-129099 Klappenbach, Laura. "The Working Zoologist." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-working-zoologist-129099 (accessed November 22, 2017).