Animal Behavior Specialist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and requirements needed to become an animal behavior specialist. Get a quick view of the employment outlook as well as details about areas of specialization and job duties to find out if this is the right career for you.

Animal behavior specialists study why animals do the things they do, within a range of disciplines that includes ethology, behavioral ecology, comparative psychology, and even anthropology - the study of the human animal. You'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in your chosen area before you can begin working in any of these professions, and a graduate degree or state license may be necessary for some jobs.

Essential Information

An animal behavior specialist observes animals in order to understand the history and evolution of a species. Specialized areas of the science include ethology, behavioral ecology, comparative psychology and anthropology. Animal behavior specialists may work in zoos, aquariums and museums, as well as wildlife organizations and medical research industries. Educational requirements vary based on the profession.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Graduate degree and/or specialized training
Specializations Ethology, behavioral ecology, comparative psychology, anthropology
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% (for all zoologists and wildlife biologists) *
Median Salary (2015) $59,680 annually (for all zoologists and wildlife biologists) *

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for an Animal Behavior Specialist

An animal behavior specialist studies animals' and organisms' eating habits, mating rituals and adaptive processes in their natural environment. By observing survival techniques and nurturing mannerisms, animal specialists can determine how and why species interact, thrive or become extinct. Additionally, they investigate internal changes, evaluating hormonal or genetic causes of behavioral patterns.

Job Duties for an Animal Behavior Specialist

Animal behavior specialists are employed in the fields of ethology, ecology, psychology and anthropology. Each of these sciences investigates animal mannerisms and seeks to discover the basis for certain behaviors and how they relate within a genus, to other species or to their environment.

Ethologists

An ethologist studies animals to determine genetic or environmental causes for behaviors. Scientists track the history and evolution of these behaviors to discover if they are derived from predisposed instinct or learned deduction. These specialists may conduct experiments within a lab setting or a natural, though controlled, environment.

Behavioral Ecologists

Emerging from ethology, the discipline of behavioral ecology is to understand how an animal's behavior adapts to their environment. Through empirical observations, the behavioral ecologist theorizes how and why specific changes in behavior have helped certain species survive in an environment.

Comparative Psychologists

A comparative psychologist is concerned with behavioral similarities that might govern all animals, not just one specific type or species. Experiments typically employ only a handful of species and are used to find commonalities among different species in areas of disease, intelligence, reproduction and migratory patterns. Employing studies of ethology, ecology and anthropology, comparative psychologists analyze interspecies behaviors, including those shared with humans.

Anthropologists

The science of anthropology is concerned with behavior in human beings and how the social environment surrounding humans affects behavior. To study certain behaviors, such as gender roles or languages, an anthropologist compares two indigenous populations and records similarities and differences. Anthropology is typically separated into cultural, physical, historical and linguistic disciplines.

Requirements for an Animal Behavior Specialist

Generally, the minimum educational requirement for an animal behavior specialist is a bachelor's degree, though academic conditions vary based on the profession and industry. Full-time researchers often need a graduate degree, such as a master's, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and those that treat animals may require a state veterinarian practitioner's license. Zoos, aquariums and museums which employ animal behavior specialists may require a bachelor's or master's degree, as well as specialized training.

Salary and Job Outlook

Many animal behavioral specialist careers fall into the occupational category of zoologists and wildlife biologists. Employment for this group is projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow 4% over the 2014-2024 decade. This is slower-than-average growth. The median salary for these workers was $59,680 in May 2015.

This sector helps humans learn about the behavior of all the animals we share the planet with, including other humans. You can study animal behaviors within a genetic, environmental, or psychological framework, and work in an educational, research, or medical institution. While employment growth is currently slow in this field, salaries are very competitive for those who do find jobs.

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