About Being a Zoologist

Job Description, Salary, and More for Zoologists

Zoologist with adult Bonobo (Pan paniscus) Sanctuary Lola Ya Bonobo Chimpanzee, Democratic Republic of the Congo
••• Martin Harvey / Getty Images

Zoologists are biologists that study a wide variety of animal species. They may be involved in research, animal management, or education.

Duties

The duties of a zoologist may include tasks such as designing and conducting research projects, analyzing data, writing and publishing scientific reports, ensuring animal welfare, educating the public, promoting conservation efforts, and assisting with captive breeding programs.

Zoologists often work in conjunction with zookeepers, veterinariansmarine biologists, and wildlife biologists to properly manage animal populations in captivity and in the wild. Zoologists may also take on keeper and curator roles in some zoological parks.

Enjoying extreme outdoor conditions is a must for this career path. Zoologists may work outdoors in varying weather conditions and extreme temperatures while conducting research or management activities. In addition, the ability to be tech savvy is a plus because zoologists often use highly specialized scientific equipment and data management software during the course of their research activities.

Career Options

Zoologists may specialize in a branch of the field that is concerned with a related group of animals, such as mammalogy (mammals), herpetology (reptiles), ichthyology (fish), or ornithology (birds). Zoologists may also specialize even further by concentrating on the study of a single species.

Employment opportunities for zoologists exist in zoological parks, aquariums, and marine parks, state or federal governmental agencies, laboratories, educational institutions, museums, publications, environmental conservation groups, and consulting companies.

Education and Training

Zoologists must have at least a Bachelors degree to enter the profession. Graduate level degrees, such as a Masters or Ph.D., are generally preferred and often required for advanced research or teaching positions. The major for an aspiring zoologist is usually biology, zoology, or a closely related field. Many undergraduates earn their initial Bachelors degree in biology before focusing on zoology during their graduate level studies.

Courses in biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, statistics, communications, and computer technology are required for the pursuit of any degree in the biological sciences. Zoologists may also need to take additional courses in animal science, veterinary science, animal behavior, animal husbandry, and ecology to complete their degree requirements.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) is the most prominent membership group for zoologists and other zoo professionals. The members of the AZA are a network of more than 6,000 committed zoo and aquarium professionals, organizations, and suppliers worldwide. There are associate and professional levels offered by the organization. Another professional group open to zoologists is the Zoological Association of America (ZAA). The ZAA also offers associate and professional levels of membership.

Zoologists may also choose to join the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), a widely-known group that has been active in the profession since 1967. The AAZK is not just for zookeepers—AAZK membership (currently at 2,800) includes all levels of zoo personnel, from keepers to curators to veterinarians.

Salary

The salary for zoologists may vary based on factors such as the type of employment, level of education completed, and the duties required by their specific position. 

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reported a very similar median annual salary of $59,680 (or $28.69 per hour) for zoologists and wildlife biologists. The lowest 10 percent earned under $39,620, while the highest 10 percent earned $99,700.

Zoologists with graduate degrees or with specialized knowledge tend to earn higher salaries in the field. According to the BLS, positions with the federal government offer compensation with an annual mean salary of $79,199 and research scientists make an annual mean salary of $59,670.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for wildlife biologists and zoologists will grow more slowly than the average for all professions, just 5 percent to the year 2022. Zoologists holding graduate degrees will have the greatest number of career options, especially in research and academia.