Receive information about the benefits of our programs, the courses you'll take, and what you need to apply.
As environmental crises such as climate change and animal extinctions become increasingly imminent, many people are curious about what they can do to promote sustainability and live in greater harmony with their own ecosystem. Scientists have expert knowledge and insight into how to promote and implement sustainability, and wildlife biologists are helping to lead the way. Those who study wildlife biology gain a deeper understanding of how different animals behave in their natural habitats. This correlates with a greater understanding of key ecological principles.
If you’re interested in studying animals in the wild or engaging in important ecological work, wildlife ecology may be a good fit for you. Those interested in the field should consider how to become wildlife biologists, including the educational requirements, necessary skills, and job responsibilities.
What Does a Wildlife Biologist Do?
A wildlife biologist is a scientist whose work involves the study of how animals behave and interact with their surroundings. One of the underlying goals of the wildlife biologist is to gain knowledge to inform decisions on how to protect animals, preserve ecosystems, and mitigate human intrusion. Additionally, wildlife biologists work to develop and implement strategies that preserve and support endangered species and their natural habitats.
Some common duties of wildlife biologists include:
Collecting census data for different animal populations
Observing different ecosystems
Studying animal characteristics, repopulation, health, and dynamics
Evaluating the impact of commercial or industrial activity on animal populations
Developing and implementing plans to save endangered species
Where Do Wildlife Biologists Work?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), wildlife biologists may work in many types of institutions, including:
State government agencies
Federal government agencies
Scientific and technical consulting services
Colleges and universities
Wildlife biologists may also work in settings such as offices and laboratories, depending on their position and the type of research they are engaged in. They may also spend time in the field, studying animals in their natural habitats and gathering research data.
Time spent in the field can vary based on the position. Fieldwork can be more or less remote, depending on the ecosystem. Some may spend time in locations such as forests, deserts, mountains, or even at sea.
Steps to Become a Wildlife Biologist
There are several important steps to consider for becoming a wildlife biologist. They include gaining the proper education, internship and work experience, and holding the necessary skill set.
To become a wildlife biologist, it’s necessary to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some colleges and universities offer programs in zoology or wildlife biology, both of which can be well suited for careers in this field. However, degrees in related fields, including ecology, environmental science, and sustainability may also be acceptable. The coursework in these programs will provide the right foundation for a career in wildlife biology.
Maryville University’s Bachelor of Science in Sustainability can help students develop the comprehensive skills and knowledge to become wildlife biologists. Designed in collaboration with international leaders in sustainability, the program offers a well-rounded education that incorporates case studies, field tests, and simulations, alongside coursework in a variety of relevant subjects.
Master’s-level and even doctoral-level education may sometimes be necessary to perform higher-level research or lead larger teams of wildlife biologists. To lead independent research projects, it is usually necessary for graduates to have a PhD in zoology, wildlife biology, or a closely related field.
Aspiring wildlife biologists may also benefit from taking internship-level positions, or working as volunteers at zoos or ecological organizations. The BLS notes that wildlife biologists should be proficient working outdoors, sometimes doing laborious tasks. These positions can give students and graduates experience working with animals and outdoors. It can also help them develop both the physical and emotional stamina required for becoming wildlife biologists.
Through classroom learning, combined with internship and volunteer experience, students can hone the skills most important for success in wildlife biology. These include the following:
Outdoor skills: To thrive in this field, it’s important to be comfortable spending prolonged periods of time outside, sometimes in adverse weather conditions.
Observation skills: One of the primary functions of wildlife biologists is to observe animals and take detailed notes about their patterns of behavior, as well as their interactions with their environment.
Critical thinking: In addition to observing animals, wildlife biologists also need to draw well-informed conclusions about how particular animals behave and ecosystems work.
Problem solving: In the face of difficult circumstances or unexplained phenomena, wildlife biologists should be ready to apply creative problem-solving skills.
Technical skills: Students should have robust technical skills to assist with research and use programs such as geographic information systems (GIS).
Wildlife Biologist Salary
According to the BLS, the annual median wildlife biologist salary was $66,350 as of 2020. The BLS also expects jobs for wildlife biologists to grow 5% between 2020 and 2030. The BLS projects more wildlife biologists will be needed in the future to preserve habitats that become endangered due to human expansion.
There are a number of factors that can impact the salary of a wildlife biologist, such as location, specialty, and position. Those with more years of experience can typically command higher salaries. Education level also matters, with more advanced degrees usually earning more competitive salaries.
Make a Lasting Impact on the World
More people are awakening to the need for environmental sustainability and more responsible environmental stewardship. The information yielded by wildlife biologists can prove foundational to these efforts. If you’re interested in contributing to this work, consider the steps for how to become a wildlife biologist.