Primatologist: Job Description, Duties and Salary

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a primatologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and salary expectations for various related careers to find out if this is the career for you.

Primatologists specialize in primates via a number of different subject areas, including wildlife biology, zoology, and anthropology. To break into the field, a bachelor's degree in a related subject is necessary, however a master's degree is often the requirement. Many research positions require a Ph.D.

Essential Information

Primatologists engage in the study of non-human primates and can be found in multiple fields, including biology, medical research, anthropology and zoology. Some work in contained areas, such as zoos or laboratories, observing and recording how each primate behaves. Others work in the field at locations such as the South American and African forests. Primatologists need patience and awareness to safely observe and work with these animals. Degree requirements depend upon the individual's career goals. A bachelor's degree in zoology or a related field is a common entry point, and many positions require a graduate degree.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in zoology or related field at minimum; master's degree often required; Ph.D. may be required for research
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for zoologists and wildlife biologists
Median Salary (2015)* $59,680 for zoologists and wildlife biologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Description for Primatologists

Primatology involves the observation and study of non-human primates, such as chimpanzees, baboons and gorillas. There are several types of primatologists, and each has a specific focus. For example, because humans are primates, anthropologists watch non-human primate behaviorisms to find clues about how early humans may have evolved. Biological researchers also conduct medical tests on chimpanzees because chimpanzee DNA is very close to human DNA.

Other professionals who focus on primatology include educators, zoologists, veterinarians, psychologists and animal caretakers. Under the category of biological sciences, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) described workers in this profession as those who carefully observe and experiment upon animals (www.bls.gov). Primatologists may also investigate how habitats and environmental changes affect primates over time, per the BLS.

Primatologist Job Duties

Job duties differ based on the type of primatologist, but one common duty includes taking extensive notes. Whether someone is observing animals or conducting tests, every detail must be documented because primatologists show their findings to other experts in the primatology community. Scholars can review the notes of past studies to verify if gorilla colonies, for instance, have changed behaviors in a particular area. Taking field notes and writing articles and books is another common duty among primatologists.

Those who handle primates on a regular basis often have different duties. For example, at a zoo or an animal sanctuary, caretakers may provide routine medical care, including giving shots, running blood work and conducting other bodily examinations. Educators also handle primates in an effort to educate the public. To handle animals safely, educators must develop a relationship of trust with each monkey, for example, and learn to control it during demonstrations.

Salary Info for Primatologists

There are no salary records for primatologists as a whole group, but there are records for each individual field. Realize that these numbers reflect a job category in general and may not be specific to professionals who work exclusively in primatology.

As of 2015, the BLS reported the following median annual salaries for primatology-related career titles: veterinarians earned a median of $88,490; the median for medical scientists and researchers was $82,240; zoologists and wildlife biologists reported a median of $59,680; and anthropologists reported median earnings of $61,220.

While the duties vary depending on the type of primatologist, one important responsibility across all specializations is the extensive observation and documentation of primate subjects. Writing and sharing field notes, articles and books is another common duty all primatologists share.


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