If you love animals, the outdoors and solitude, wildlife biology could be the perfect field. That's not to say that these scientists only work solo. But a big part of this profession is wildlife research and it's common for wildlife biologists to spend more time with animals than people. Wildlife biologists are uniquely positioned to drive conservation efforts and protect endangered species, although some spend their careers focused on education or pure research.
"Wildlife biologist" is a general term, and many of the scientists who do these jobs are in specialties. Basically, a wildlife biologist studies animals in their natural habitats and also sometimes in labs. Some specialize in studying aquatic animals, while others track birds or insects or reptiles. Some study geographical areas or ecosystems, rather than a studying a specific type of animal.
What these scientists do on a day-to-day basis depends entirely on their specialties, funding and where they are in a given research cycle. One month, a wildlife biologist might be doing field research in a jungle; the next month, she might be back in an office, analyzing data and compiling reports. One of the most important biologist responsibilities is to protect the animals and ecosystems they study, so these scientists are careful not to interfere with animals or change their habitats.
Wildlife biologists are sometimes mistaken for zoologists. Zoology is the study of animal behavior. Zoologists often specialize in certain types of animals or areas, so they may work out in nature or in a facility. So while the typical zoologist job description – study animals, compile data, etc. – may be similar to that of a wildlife biologist, there's a lot of variation within both fields.
A bachelor's degree is the minimum education that a wildlife biologist must have. These scientists commonly earn degrees in wildlife biology, zoology, ecology or a similar field. A wildlife biologist often goes on to pursue a master's degree or doctorate degree in the specialty he wants to enter. This is a competitive field, so advanced education is considered the norm.
Wildlife biologists work all over the world doing field research. Sometimes they also work in research facilities, labs and zoos. Many are employed by federal or local governments and focus on conservation efforts. Some work for private companies. Others work for universities and educational groups doing teaching or outreach work.
Years of Experience and Salary
Wildlife biologists generally earn fairly generous salaries. As of 2017, the median salary for these jobs was $29.95 per hour or $62,290 per year, which means that half of wildlife biologists earn more than that amount and half earn less.
Like in most professional industries, you'll be able to command a higher salary as you gain more experience. The type of employer you work for will also play a significant role in determining your pay. Wildlife biologists who worked for the federal government earned a median annual salary of $76,270 per year (as of 2017), compared to $56,200 earned by those who worked for state government.
Job Growth Trend
Job opportunities for wildlife biologists are expected to grow by 8 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But because wildlife research funding is largely dependent on government sources, it's always somewhat uncertain what the future holds for these biologists.