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Careers Working with Wildlife: Job Options and Requirements

Sep 28, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a wildlife professional. Find out if a wildlife career is for you, by getting a quick view of the requirements such as degrees, training and job duties.

Wildlife managers, park rangers, wildlife technicians and wildlife scientists all have careers that involve working with wildlife. Those interested in working with wildlife professionally will need at least an associate's degree in a relevant field, while most positions require a bachelor's degree or graduate studies.

Essential Information

There are many career opportunities that include working with wildlife. Careers can involve hands-on care and preservation of animal habitats, or research and management jobs that may take place in an office or lab. Entry-level careers may require an associate's degree, but acquiring an advanced education may yield more diverse and challenging career possibilities.

Careers Wildlife Manager Park Naturalist Wildlife Technician Zookeeper/Wildlife Scientist
Required Education Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Science Bachelor's Degree in Biology, Conservation, Ecology or Environmental Education Associate's Degree Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree for advancement
Other Requirements Internship Driver's License Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Biology, Zoology Ph.D for research and teaching at college level
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% for all General and Operations Managers 4% for all Conservation Scientists 2% decline for all Conservation Technicians 5% for all Zoologist/Wildlife Biologist
Median Annual Salary $100,930 (2018)* for all General and Operation Managers $39,780 for Park Rangers (2019)** $37,180 (2018)* for all Conservation Technicians $63,420 (2018)* for all Zoologist/Wildlife Biologist

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

Career Options

To pursue a wildlife career, you must enjoy working with animals and spending time outdoors. As a park naturalist, you'll need a valid driver's license to perform all aspects of the job. To qualify for a wildlife manager position, you need good managerial skills. Other positions include wildlife technician, zookeeper and wildlife biologist.

Wildlife Manager

Wildlife managers protect and control wildlife populations on public lands. They work in state parks, recreational areas or federal refuges. Wildlife managers seek to preserve the natural efficiency of the environment and its inhabitants by inventorying wildlife species, protecting habitats from hunting and planting vegetation.

Wildlife managers need to be knowledgeable about laws and regulations that aid in governing their operation. Managerial skills and a background in environmental, biological or wildlife science are necessary. A Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Science combined with experience may be sufficient for a career as a wildlife manager. Internships and volunteer activities are ways to gain the required experience.

A wildlife manager performs the same duties as a general and operations manager. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for general and operations managers is predicted to increase slightly faster than average through 2028. The BLS lists an annual mean salary of $123,880.

Park Naturalist

A park naturalist, sometimes referred to as a park ranger, works directly in state, federal and local parks or forests. They give tours to the public and provide historical and scientific information about the park and its inhabitants, including wildlife, plants, trees and more. Park naturalists must be prepared for emergencies, since they can be responsible for the protection of animals, humans and government property during their watch. They may also work on the upkeep of park structures and perform operational duties as needed. According to PayScale.com, park rangers in the 90th percentile or higher earned $61,000 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $26,000 or less per year, in 2019. A conservation scientist position is similar to a park naturalist. The BLS reports an increase in jobs for conservation scientists, which is slower than average through 2028.

Park naturalists generally need to have a 4-year degree related to environmental education and natural resources. Naturalists should be outgoing and be able to speak to audiences of all ages. In some cases, naturalists must have a driver's license.

Wildlife Technician

Wildlife technician jobs are entry-level careers often found in government agencies and parks or forests. Wildlife technicians assist wildlife scientists in gathering specimens for research, and inventorying and tagging animals. A wildlife aide, wildlife associate, research assistant and conservation technician are career titles with similar duties as a wildlife technician.

The BLS reports forest and conservation technicians, a group that can include wildlife technicians, earned a mean annual salary of $40,110 as of May 2018. The BLS also notes that a decline in employment is expected for this career category between 2018 and 2028.

Wildlife technicians work with animals in their natural environments and thus should enjoy both animals and being in the outdoors. Education requirements can include a 2-year or 4-year degree in wildlife biology, zoology or a related field.

Zookeeper

Zookeepers care for wild animals in a controlled environment, although there is some level of danger inherent in many of these positions because wild animals are not always tame when in captivity. Zookeepers perform routine tasks, including maintaining cages and habitats, feeding animals and giving public zoo tours. The BLS doesn't show reports for zookeepers, however, they report animal care and service workers records a median annual salary $23,950, as of May 2018. BLS also predicted 16% increase in jobs for 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average.

To become a wildlife scientist, you need to complete at least a master's degree in biology or a related field, such as zoology. For those who want to work in academia, a Ph.D. is typically required.

Wildlife Scientist

Wildlife scientists usually focus on diseases that affect wildlife and work to discover cures for them. Much of their work involves researching wild animals in their natural environments. These scientists can work with both living and deceased wildlife as part of their research. Alternate career titles include marine biologist, ornithologist and zoologist.

Wildlife scientists are sometimes also called wildlife biologists. According to the BLS, employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is expected to increase as fast as the average between 2018 and 2028. The BLS lists a mean annual salary of $67,760 for this category of professionals in 2018.

To become a wildlife scientist, one needs to complete at least a master's degree in biology or a related field, such as zoology. For those who want to work in academia, a Ph.D. is typically required.

Careers working with wildlife include tasks as varies as tracking and counting wildlife numbers, researching potential cures for diseases that are affecting a species, tagging animals and caring for animals that are in a zoo. The specific needs of each career vary, with most jobs in this field requiring at least a bachelor's degree.

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