How To Become A Wildlife Biologist
Career Video: Wildlife Biologist
Do you have a love for animals, especially those who live in the wild? Do you seek adventure, opportunities to travel, and time spent outdoors? Are you interested in protecting and preserving specific species of animals, lessening the impact of human development on ecological systems? Can you work independently, possibly in remote areas, studying animals in their natural habitats? Would you like to respond to ecological transformations that can impact the lives of humans, animals, and other organisms? If you have a passion for wildlife and a deep understanding of science, then a career as a wildlife biologist could be perfect for you.
Why Become A Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife biologists are specialists who work with animals in their natural habitats. The objective of this occupation is to understand better specific species, their role within their environment, and how their existence relates to the lives of other species, including humans. They may focus on hunting, pollution, the food chain, infrastructural development, foreign species, climate patterns, and other ecological and environmental issues that may affect animals and humans. Wildlife biologists work to help endangered species and prevent others from becoming so.
Their job encompasses a myriad of responsibilities, such as observing, researching, experimenting, educating, advocating, and rescuing/caregiving. Much of what a wildlife biologist does depends on his or her specialty, education, and experience. Wildlife biologists can focus on entomology (insects), ornithology (birds), marine biology (oceanic wildlife), and limnology (ecological systems and features of inland waters), among many other areas of expertise. Within each specialty, scientists work at a number of capacities:
- Collect data through experimentation and observation
- Plan and implement wildlife assessments and research activities
- Analyze information and answer specific inquiries
- Organize and report data to various stakeholders and scientific professionals
- Act as consultants for various groups of interest
- Monitor and assess wildlife in the field
- Monitor and assess specimen and wildlife in a laboratory setting
- Teach, research, and write at the academic level
- Act as supervisor, manager, or administrator on various projects, studies, and programs
Wildlife biologists need to have a balance of qualities and skills to be successful. They are academically trained and research-oriented; however, much of their job takes a natural interest and talent in working with wildlife. They should also possess a number of other attributes:
- Passionate about animals
- Excellent communication skills
- Lifelong and active learner
- Detail oriented
- Able to work in isolation
- Physical stamina and competency
Wildlife Biologist Work Environment
This occupation requires a lot of fieldwork, which includes physical contact with animals and their natural environments. This part of the job may be demanding, both physically and mentally. Many times, they work in isolation from other people and work/live in dangerous surroundings. They may work many years with one species or group of animals, in one environment, or they may travel throughout the planet, working with various types of animals. Other work environments include laboratories, offices, classrooms, and other indoor settings. Wildlife biologists not only work as practitioners in the field, but they can be administrators, advocates, researchers, and educators.
The role of a wildlife biologist is full-time, and, for those who work in the field, constant. Travel should be expected, and safety precautions must be taken seriously. For those working in a research setting, individuals should expect to work long days, evenings, weekends, and maybe even during holidays. For those in an academic position, these extended hours are not as likely.
Wildlife Biologist Salary
The median annual salary for a wildlife biologist is $59,680, according to the 2015 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The pay range for this degree, from $39,180 to $97,390, depends upon experience, education, specialty, and employment. Wildlife biologists and zoologists working for the federal government will mostly likely see the most earnings, at about $74,190, per year. In fact, wildlife biologists who work in Washington, D.C. and Maryland can expect the highest salaries in the nation. Research and development biologists will also earn more than the average salary; however, those in management, consulting, education, or state government employment will earn about the same as the median annual salary.
Advanced positions, which will bring about higher salary and opportunity, will require more experience and advanced educational credentials.
Wildlife Biologist Career Outlook
The job outlook for wildlife biologists is below average, with a national growth of 4 percent. While the role of a wildlife biologist is essential to understanding the reciprocal impact of humans and animals on each other, budgetary constraints will hinder employment in this occupation. Not only will wildlife biologists and zoologists be needed to understand the impact of human population growth on animal species, but these specialists will also need to study animal population control, climate change, and evolving ecological systems.
Wildlife Biologist Degree
All wildlife biologists will hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. However, advanced research and management positions will require a graduate degree and most likely a Ph.D.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is required to work in the field. It is essential that wildlife biologists have specific knowledge because of the delicate nature of their work. They must maintain safety and security protocols, do no harm to the environment or living creatures, and preserve data/specimen to the highest research procedures. An undergraduate degree will offer general courses in wildlife biology, zoology, ecology, biology, anatomy, herpetology (amphibians and reptiles), botany (plants and flowers), chemistry, physics, wildlife management, and any relevant coursework that pertains to a specialty.
Note: It is important for wildlife biologists to also have a strong background in computers, statistics, geographic information systems (GIS), and communication (English).
Step 2: Obtain work experience. This is the type of occupation in which hands-on and real-life experience is essential. It is important for aspiring wildlife biologists to gain experience with animals, especially in the wild, and improve their craft through developing practical skills.
Step 3: Obtain a graduate degree (recommended). Advanced management and research positions will require at least a master’s degree. A master’s degree will help to advance an individual into a consultant, management, or administrative position. For individuals who wish to conduct independent research or teach at the collegiate level, a Ph.D. is required.