Zoologist

What is a zoologist? A Zoologist is a sub-division of biologists. Zoology is the scientific study of the animal kingdom and encompasses a comprehensive variety of organisms, from small invertebrates such as earthworms to giant mammals such as blue whales. This occupation is sometimes used interchangeably with wildlife biologists or animal biologists.

At a Glance

Imagine you have been up all night, sitting behind a thick Plexiglas window watching a female polar bear gives birth to two cubs. You are a zoologist and your specialty is mammal behaviour; specifically their interaction. You have been invited to the zoo to witness this special event as part of your research.

You will watch the new mother closely: her behaviour in the first few hours with her cubs has a huge impact on their chances for survival. What you see that night will help you in your study of breeding bears and you will provide your insight into what scientists can do to keep wild populations growing.

As a zoologist, you have been studying polar bears for years, but this is the first time you've witnessed the birth of cubs up close.

Once the new additions are born, mother and cubs will need some time alone together, so you will observe their interactions using a remote camera hidden inside their micro-habitat.

In the first few hours of life, you will watch very closely to make certain the mother does not reject the cubs, which is a possibility.

If she does, you will look for indications of why and determine if there is something you can do to prevent this from happening to animals in captivity and in the wild.

Most likely, the mother bear will welcome her cubs and begin teaching them how to survive within minutes of their birth.

This is what you want to see: how her behaviour teaches them how to feed, run, and swim, as well as other necessary survival skills. Your knowledge gained from this opportunity will teach other zoologists a lot about bear behaviour and survival.

Job Duties

While job duties vary significantly from one position to the next, zoologists are frequently asked to conduct the following activities:

  • Investigate the relationships between animals and their environment
  • Study the development, physiology, and function of animals
  • Conduct surveys of animal populations and prepare reports for management agencies
  • Supervise and coordinate the work of technical staff
  • Collect, process, and prepare specimens for study
  • Analyze data and experimental observations and evaluate study results
  • Conduct research and literature reviews
  • Contribute towards advancing conservation efforts
  • Research the impacts of human behaviour on animals
  • Prepare educational presentations for academic institutions, government, and to the public
  • Prepare and publish scientific papers to report experimental results
  • Conduct research at a molecular level

 

Work Environment

Zoologists often work collaboratively with zookeepers, veterinarians, marine biologists, and wildlife biologists. As a result, work locations for zoologists can vary from being indoors or outdoors, depending on the task.

In the case of field work, Zoologists may find themselves in remote regions or they might spend prolonged periods outdoors studying specific species.

The office:

  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
  • Preparing articles and papers based on research findings
  • Researching new studies and advancements in zoology and conducting literature reviews
  • Caring for injured, sick, or endangered animals
  • Collecting and analyzing data sets
  • Developing fundraising initiatives.
  • Keeping up to date with environmental legislation

The lab:

  • Processing and analyzing samples
  • Conducting experiments
  • Breeding and raising specimens
  • Preparing deceased animals for taxidermy

The field:

  • Collecting specimens
  • Conducting experiments
  • Presenting research and experimental findings at conferences and public meetings
  • Releasing rehabilitated animals back into the wild

Identifying and helping to resolve threats to wildlife

Where to Work

There are a number of places zoologists can find employment. They include:

  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Other industries, for example, pharmaceutical research, agriculture and food production, and biotechnology companies
  • Zoos
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
  • Self-employed consultant



Search for jobs on the ECO Canada job board.

Education and Skills

If you are considering a career as a zoologist, you should have a strong interest in:

  • Biology
  • English
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a zoologist is a university undergraduate degree.

A graduate degree is required for independent research. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a zoologist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Zoology
  • Biology
  • Ecology

Certification is not mandatory to find a job as a zoologist. However, our Certified Environmental Professional (EP) designation may prove useful.

Skills

Hard/Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)

  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis
  • Data/statistical analysis
  • Animal health
  • Technical writing
  • Health, safety and environmental assessment
  • Resource management

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • A high degree of autonomy
  • Verbal and written communication
  • Organizational skills
  • Integrity
  • Time management
  • Inductive reasoning

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch at our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or take our Essential Skills courses.

Education and Skills

Douglas Morris

When I was young I spent a lot of my time outdoors. I was always interested in ecology and I grew up hoping that I could help to advance our ecological and evolutionary knowledge. My university education started in the early 1970s and resulted in a Ph.D. by the end of the decade. I moved into a university position as an assistant professor and continued my research in ecology. For the last twenty years, I have been involved with several universities, both in Canada and internationally.

My research into evolutionary ecology has focussed on the ecological and evolutionary implications of habitat selection, with small mammals as the primary study organisms. I view this research from a "big picture" perspective and try not to restrict my understanding of any particular group of species. The editor and referees of an important scientific journal recognized the value of my early theories and empirical work, and this helped to solidify my interest in habitat selection. Since that time I have expanded my basic theories and answered many questions about habitat’s role in ecology and evolution, and its use by wild species.

I enjoy spending time in the field and encourage students to participate in the fieldwork. This hands-on activity allows us to gain insights into the ecology and evolutionary biology that we would otherwise lack. Often my thinking is stimulated by fieldwork and by experiences at our various field sites. My teaching role goes hand-in-hand with my research. I am able to refine my understanding of nature and pass on that understanding to new generations of ecologists. Fieldwork is one important way that I keep myself grounded in what is important and practical.  I stay up-to-date with current information by reading journals, reviewing manuscripts, developing theory, teaching students and networking with colleagues.

The Internet allows me to connect, and share ideas, with other scientists around the world. I also attend the annual meeting of The Canadian Society of Zoologists plus one major international conference each year. There are numerous employment possibilities associated with the growing government and societal emphasis on environmental issues. In the academic setting, advancement through salary increases is associated with achievement. Beyond the full professor level, advancement is mainly through the administrative stream. From a personal perspective, in the future, I intend to learn more about the adaptive behaviour of animals as indicators of environmental stress.

My goal is to be more active internationally and to demonstrate how to solve problems in conservation with the knowledge we have gained, and continue to gain, in two decades of field research on small mammals. If you are considering the life of university zoology or ecology professor you will require education in mathematics as well as a graduate degree in biology. The discipline needs people who can look at problems from a broad perspective. It is best to be more interested in the problems themselves rather than in particular animal or plant species. People with a broad background and experience in international conservation projects will have an advantage.

Environmental positions are available from coast to coast but many are located in Ottawa and provincial capitals. My day-to-day activities vary with the season. During the fall and winter, I concentrate on teaching and I interact with students, other faculty members and administrators. In the summer months, I enjoy being active in fieldwork at our Arctic, southern Alberta, northern and southern Ontario sites. I have the opportunity to work with many different biologists, foresters, and government agencies. The hours I work per week are officially thirty-five but are often eighty or more, especially in the fieldwork season.

The other duties that go with teaching and fieldwork are statistical analyses, computer simulations, handling wild animals, use of a variety of capture and safety equipment, writing, reviewing manuscripts and grant applications, organizing seminars and symposia, and administration. Research and teaching new generations of students to think about ecology, evolution and conservation are mutually rewarding. I am fortunate and thankful, to enjoy the freedom to think in new and creative ways. This freedom of thought allows me to contribute innovative solutions to environmental problems.

Your Impact

Zoology has many areas of study. Some zoologists specialize in animal behaviour, physiology, anatomy, or taxonomy. Their research is critical to environmental issues and the protection of Canada’s animal species.

One of the most enticing aspects of this occupation is the opportunity to specialize in any groups that suit your interests such as mammalogy (mammals), ornithology (birds), or Herpetology (reptiles). You may even go further to study species within a specific classification

As a zoologist, you play a pivotal role in explaining how animals can be affected by improper land use and the way climate change impacts them. The work that you do helps preserve these animals’ livelihood as well as their habitats.

Zoologists’ understanding of fauna makes them able to protect it and increase awareness of actions that may potentially put animals at risk.

Occupational Classification

Individuals employed as Zoologists may be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 2121Biologists and Related Scientists

NOC Code: 2221Biological Technologists and Technicians

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

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