Wildlife Biologist Job Description
Wildlife biologists study plants and animals in their natural habitat, often spending long periods outdoors to monitor behavior and collect data. They may use their findings to write scientific research papers, inform habitat programs, or improve human-wildlife interaction, and they also help spread awareness about nature conservation. Positions for wildlife biologists are usually full time, with possible evening shifts depending on what they’re observing. They may work outdoors, inside a lab, or in an office, and traveling to remote locations for long periods is common.
Wildlife Biologist Duties and Responsibilities
The day-to-day responsibilities of wildlife biologists vary based on their specialization, location, and employer, but there are many basic duties that apply to all wildlife biologists, such as the following:
The primary responsibility of a wildlife biologist is to collect data about plants and animals in their native environment, often through fieldwork. This may include performing surveys, identifying species, recording animal behavior, and assessing the state of habitats.
Wildlife biologists design and implement scientific experiments, gathering data and then interpreting and analyzing it. They can publish their findings as research papers in scientific journals or use them to create simulations and wildlife strategies.
Because of their scientific expertise and firsthand observation, wildlife biologists have much to contribute to the development of environment-related programs. They help devise strategies for wildlife assessment, habitat protection, animal care and rehabilitation, and compliance.
Wildlife biologists may hold demonstrations and lectures for the general public to promote environmental awareness. In addition, they conduct training for employees and other biologists about survey methods and other specialized topics.
It generally falls to wildlife biologists to write meticulous documentation about their fieldwork. Their technical reports typically contain tabulated data and statistical analysis, which they must explain during regular updates and presentations to stakeholders.
Wildlife Biologist Skills and Qualifications
Wildlife biologists are detail-oriented, analytical scientists who are passionate about nature and the outdoors. They must have the patience for wrangling data as well as committing long hours to fieldwork. Most employers look for candidates with a master’s degree in wildlife biology or a related field. In addition, the following skills are necessary for the job:
- Biology and ecology knowledge – all wildlife biologists have a fundamental grasp of biology and ecology backed by a more focused understanding of the specimen that they’re studying
- Natural intelligence – since this role frequently involves interacting with wildlife and staying outdoors, wildlife biologists should have a high degree of natural intelligence. They are driven to protect the environment and are comfortable with spending time in nature
- Data analysis – wildlife biologists handle the entire data process, from gathering to interpreting, and they must be proficient with formal research techniques such as statistical and regression analyses
- Attention to detail – the fieldwork for this role requires sharp observation skills, since wildlife biologists derive conclusions from details in the environment. They must also be precise with paperwork during assessments and research
- Critical thinking – successful wildlife biologists practice critical thinking, connecting the dots and perceiving patterns in behavior. This enables them to arrive at accurate findings and create sound action plans
Tools of the Trade
Wildlife biologists use several tools in their day-to-day work as they operate in different settings. They should be proficient with the following:
- Data entry tools (Microsoft Word and Excel, database programs such as Oracle)
- Data analysis software (Tableau, MATLAB, Statistix)
- Fieldwork tools (binoculars, sonographs, cameras, quadrats, hand lenses)
- Laboratory equipment (microscope, tweezers, slides, Petri dishes)
- Geographic information systems (ArcView, ArcInfo, eSpatial)
Wildlife Biologist Education and Training
Wildlife biologists need to earn a master’s degree in wildlife biology or a related field, such as ecology, botany, or environmental science. Because intensive knowledge of science is vital for this role, experience and formal education are extremely important. Candidates who have worked in laboratories or published related research papers are at an advantage. Continuous learning is expected on the job, as wildlife biologists must keep up to date with the latest scientific findings and regulations, and a PhD is recommended for those planning to work in the academe.
Wildlife Biologist Salary and Outlook
The median salary for wildlife biologists and zoologists is around $62,000 per year, or $30 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Those in the 10th percentile earn less than $40,000, and the highest paid make in excess of $99,700 annually.
Wildlife biology positions are projected to increase at an average rate of 8 percent by 2026. Because of increased interaction between humans and wildlife along with environmental concerns such as global warming, wildlife biologists are much needed, but employment growth is tempered by limited funding.
Interested in pursuing a career as a wildlife biologist? The following are some helpful resources to get you started:
The Wildlife Society – TWS is an international nonprofit organization for wildlife professionals who are passionate about sustaining wildlife and natural habitats for future generations. A comprehensive resource hub, it offers news articles, learning material such as books and scientific papers, links to jobs and events, and wildlife-related certifications
The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs – written by navigator and explorer Tristan Gooley, this book explores traditional ways of deciphering nature, from predicting the weather to tracking animals. It’s a dense but fun read that’s essential for anyone interested in the outdoors
Wildlife Conservation Society – this LinkedIn group with more than 30,000 members is affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Society, a nonprofit that aims to protect wildlife and biodiversity
Experimental Design for the Life Sciences – zoologist and ecology professor Graeme Ruxton walks readers through the process of designing effective experiments, drawing from case studies in various fields. The book’s online resource center includes practical exercises, bonus sections, and a list of free software
Wildlife Habitat Council – centered around habitat conservation and management, WHC has a robust knowledge center with webinars, downloadable white papers, and even a biodiversity quiz. Wildlife biologists can apply for WHC Conservation Certification, which teaches how to start, implement, and review conservation projects
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