Learn About Being a Wildlife Biologist

Biologist photographing an adult rubber boa (Charina bottae), southern Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
••• Wayne Lynch / Getty Images

Wildlife biologists are primarily responsible for studying the biology, behavior, and habitats of a variety of animal populations in the wild.

Duties

A wildlife biologist must use their knowledge of wildlife and habitats to manage and study animal populations. Those working in the field may require the skills needed to trap, tag, or relocate animals for conservation purposes. They may also be responsible for conducting census projects, research studies, and complex data analysis. They must also possess solid communications skills in order to relate their scientific findings.

Wildlife biologists have many diverse duties. They may be involved with managing forests or wetlands, studying ecosystems, developing land and water use plans, working to save endangered species, evaluating the impact of commercial ventures on local wildlife, or studying wildlife disease transmission. They may also interact with fish and game wardens and wildlife rehabilitators to coordinate the management of local wildlife.

In addition to routine administrative office work, wildlife biologists frequently work outdoors in potentially harsh weather conditions. They may interact with, and study, any number of animal species in the population of local wildlife including deer, moose, raccoons, opossums, migratory birds, birds of prey, reptiles, marine mammals, bats, big cats, fish, and amphibians.

Career Options

If they hold advanced degrees, wildlife biologists may find employment in higher education, usually as college professors. They may also work for the state or federal government in conservation or research roles, often within agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Private sector employment may be secured at zoos, community centers, environmental research facilities, and consulting firms.

Education and Certification

A wildlife biologist usually possesses a degree in wildlife or fisheries management or a related area. These degrees generally involve the completion of coursework in wildlife conservation and management, population dynamics, animal behavior, genetics, zoology, ecology, anatomy and physiology, biology, botany, chemistry, statistics, and wildlife or environmental law. A bachelor’s degree is required at minimum, while a Masters degree or Ph.D. is generally preferred by most governmental and private employers.

Wildlife biologists must also be very familiar with the use of various computer-based technologies and advanced methods of data manipulation. Those working in the field often utilize specialized computer software designed to track individual animal movements, map population dynamics, and compile statistical data analysis.

The Wildlife Society offers the field’s professional designation—Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB). CWB applicants must meet educational requirements and have at least five years of professional experience. Wildlife biologists who have not yet achieved the requisite professional experience may be granted Associate Wildlife Biologist (AWB) certification status. Once certified, the wildlife biologist must complete at least 80 hours of continuing education every five years.

Salary

The salary for wildlife biologists varies based on factors such as the type of employment, level of education, and the duties required by their specific position. The average salary for a wildlife biologist is $59,680 (or $28.69 an hour). The bottom 10 percent of wildlife biologists reported annual earnings of under $38,080. Those in the top 10 percent earn more than $96,720.

Wildlife biologists holding advanced degrees or with specialized knowledge tend to earn higher salaries. According to the BLS, wildlife biologist positions with the federal government earn the highest compensation; an annual mean wage of $74,110. Research scientists make an annual mean wage of $59,950.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) expects employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists to grow at 6 percent through 2026. This is a much slower rate than the average growth expected for all professions surveyed.

Those wildlife biologists that hold Masters or Ph.D. degrees will have the greatest number of career options over the next decade, especially in the areas of research or academia.