Become a Wildlife Forensic Scientist: Education and Career Roadmap

Jul 10, 2020

Should I Become a Wildlife Forensic Scientist?

A wildlife forensic scientist analyzes evidence from wildlife cases to aid investigations involving wildlife protection laws. Most of a wildlife forensic scientist's job is spent in a lab, examining samples through the use of scientific processes, such as chemical analysis, toxicology, and physical examination. In addition, they spend time in court, speaking as expert witnesses in wildlife crime cases.

In addition to working in a lab, wildlife forensic professionals might have to work outdoors, collecting samples and evidence for processing, or examining the scene of a wildlife incident. This can subject them to all kinds of weather conditions, and they might be called upon at any hour if there is an emergency. Higher-level forensic specialists are usually looked on as experts. Additionally, wildlife forensics professionals might get to travel, since wildlife crimes can happen anywhere there is wildlife.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree for technician positions; master's or doctoral degree needed for career advancement or research positions
Degree Field(s) Forensic science, biology, chemistry, or other natural science
Key Skills Attention to detail, critical thinking, excellent written and spoken communication skills, ability to work with chemicals and laboratory equipment
Salary (2016) $51,205 (median for all forensic scientists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Wildlife forensic science technicians are required to have bachelor's degrees in forensic science or one of the natural sciences. These programs typically take four years to complete. A degree in forensic science should include training in mathematics, chemistry, and biology, as well as in modern forensic techniques.

Success Tips:

  • Seek additional education in communication. Since a wildlife forensic scientist must communicate in both verbal and written form, courses and training in both writing and public speaking may prove useful. Clear, concise writing can aid a scientist in communicating with fellow employees both in and out of the lab. Improving one's public speaking ability can help in providing expert testimony in a clear, concise manner.
  • Take a broad range of hard science courses. In addition to the core science of the major, a thorough understanding of a variety of hard sciences is a valuable asset to have in the field.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Much of the technical skill a wildlife forensic scientist utilizes is learned in on-the-job training. Experience earned from volunteering or employment in a scientific setting will begin to hone these skills. In addition, some positions may require experience with a particular type of lab procedure, such as DNA testing.

Success Tip:

  • Earn certification as a forensic scientist or join a professional organization. Certification isn't typically necessary to become a wildlife forensic scientist. However, many regions have organizations that offer voluntary certification in forensic science. Similar organizations may not offer certification, but they may offer resources to their various members.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree

While a bachelor's degree is the minimum necessary for technician positions, many wildlife forensic scientists have master's degrees or doctorates in one of the applicable fields. These degrees can open up doors for advanced academic research and teaching positions, or they can simply serve as tools for career advancement. Some graduate schools offer special courses that involve performing wildlife forensic research in a field location, such as an ocean shore.

Step 4: Attain a Supervisory Role

Scientists who gain enough experience and demonstrate leadership skills may be qualified to lead teams of scientists or researchers.

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