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Animal Behavior Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Degrees in animal behavior typically cover zoology, biology and wildlife topics. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for animal behavior graduates.

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Several careers may be pursued with a degree in animal behavior. These range from studying animals as a biologist or zoologist, to caring for pets or wild animals as a veterinary technician.

Essential Information

Animal behaviorists study the reproductive, social and survival activities of animals, including invertebrates, mammals and single-cell organisms. The standard requirement for animal behaviorists is a graduate degree in a related field, such as a Master of Arts or Science in Animal Behavior or Ethology, or a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. It may also be possible for prospective animal behaviorists to enter this field with a bachelor's degree in a related field.

Career title Zoologist Anthropologist Veterinary Technologist or Technician
Education requirements Bachelor's degree at minimum; additional education may lead to better career options Master's degree or Ph.D. Associate's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for zoologists and wildlife biologists 4% for anthropologists and archaeologists 19%
Mean Salary (2015)* $64,230 for zoologists and wildlife biologists $64,290 for anthropologists and archaeologists $33,280

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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  • Animal Behavior
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  • Entomology
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Career Options

Animal behaviorists are scientists who are typically engaged in one of the following fields: anthropology, behavioral ecology, comparative psychology or ethology, which is a subfield of zoology. They can be employed by aquariums, government agencies, museums or zoos. Some animal behavior specialists work for conservation groups or teach at the college level. Research opportunities at private institutions and universities are also available.

Zoologists

Zoologists observe the interactions and behavior of certain animals within a given ecosystem. The minimum requirement for prospective zoologists is a bachelor's degree, while a master's degree may lead to career advancement. In order for zoologists to conduct independent research, they must first obtain a Ph.D. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual income for zoologists was $64,230 in 2015 (bls.gov). The BLS also reported that occupations for this industry are expected to grow by four percent from 2014-2024.

Anthropologists

Anthropologists determine links between nature and culture by observing and interpreting the behavior of humans, including cultures, archeological remains and physical characteristics. Most occupations in this field require a master's degree, though a Ph.D. may be beneficial for prospective anthropologists. From 2014-2024, the BLS reported that the job growth for anthropologists should increase by 4%. The mean annual income for anthropologists was $64,290 in 2015, according to the BLS.

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

While under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, veterinary technologists and technicians study illnesses and injuries in animals by carrying out medical tests. The minimum education requirement for this position is an associate's degree, and they may also be required to pass a credentialing exam. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for veterinary technicians and technologists was $33,280 in 2015. The BLS projected a 19% growth rate for jobs in this field from 2014-2024.

Duties

The responsibilities of animal behavior workers can vary according to the position. In general, animal behaviorists study how animals relate to each other and their physical environments. This can include the behaviors and mechanisms animals use to find food and mates, avoid predators, look after their offspring and reproduce. Whereas ethologists focus on the purposeful and regulatory aspects of animal behavior, behavioral ecologists study the relationship between patterns of activity and the natural setting or social situation.

Educational Requirements

A graduate degree in a relevant field of study is the usual requirement for obtaining a position as an animal behaviorist. These degrees include a Master of Arts or Science in Animal Behavior or Ethology, as well as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. However, aspiring professionals may be able to enter the field with a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in a relevant field of study.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately ten colleges and universities in the United States that offer degree programs in animal behavior and ethology (www.nces.ed.gov). Behavioral ecologists and ethologists may find degree programs through the animal science, biology, wildlife or zoology departments. Some schools also offer certificate or undergraduate minors in animal behavior; combined programs in animal behavior and conservation are also available at the graduate level.

Professional Development

In addition to a formal education, animal behaviorists may be interested in joining the Animal Behavior Society (www.animalbehaviorsociety.org). Membership benefits include access to annual conferences, eligibility for grants, networking opportunities and a subscription to a scholarly journal that can help professionals keep up with the latest developments in the field.

Careers in animal behavior allow one to work closely with animals, either domesticated or wild. Research and analytical skills are useful for both animal biologists/zoologists, as well as for veterinarian technicians. Backgrounds in biology and animal anatomy are crucial in these fields.

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