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What is a Zoologist?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A zoologist is a person who usually at minimum holds an undergraduate degree in biology or zoology, and may hold graduate degrees in zoology. A few have field training only and don’t hold degrees of any kind. Zoology is a branch of biology, a life science that focuses on the study of animals, in a variety of different ways. What a person in this profession does largely depends upon how he or she plans to specialize. There are many diverse jobs in this field.

Some zoologists work at zoos, participating in direct care of animals, observing them, or working as wildlife educators who develop educational materials and programs for zoo staff or for people who visit zoos. Others work overseeing wildlife reserves. They might study there and work on counting animal populations or studying the behavior of animals, and others might study animals in less protected areas.

Individuals in this profession do not necessarily work in the field. Many work in lab-based environments, studying specific biological aspects of animals, or they might work as professors teaching the subject. Zoology can be very specific, and some of these scientists may devote their lifetimes to the study of a single species, or work can be more generalized.

There are some main things a zoologist is likely to do, and these often dovetail with other scientific disciplines. Note that not all people in this field specialize in these areas. They might do any of the following:

  1. Specialize in studying a particular type or group of animals like reptiles, mammals, marine mammals, fish, or birds. Respectively, these can be called herpetology, mammalogy, marine mammalogy (or marine biology), ichthyology, and ornithology.
  2. Study animal behavior, called ethology.
  3. Study and compare animal anatomy.
  4. Genetically evaluate single animals or more commonly animal populations.
  5. Classify animals.
  6. Evaluate how animals have changed over time (evolutionary biology).
  7. Study extinct animals (paleozoology).
  8. Study animals that were thought extinct but have been found to still be living (cryptozoology).
  9. Evaluate environmental impact on animals (environmental ecology).

There are many people who have at least minimally been involved in wildlife studies, whose names will no doubt be familiar. These include Jeff Corwin, a herpetologist who has a successful show on the Animal Planet Network; Jane Goodall, who has devoted her life to the study of chimpanzees; and the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. Names of people who have made contributions from the past include Aristotle, Sir Charles Darwin, Carolus Linnaeus, and Georges Cuvier, the founder of comparative anatomy.

A zoologist has diverse career choices and often must be familiar with several scientific disciplines. People who want to pursue a career in this field should consider taking biology classes, as well as classes in those fields that interest them most. Students who are sure that they want to work with animals should look for animal behavior classes, and even before they get to college, they should try volunteering in places that give you opportunities to observe or care for animals, like zoos, marine parks, or animal shelters, and rescue facilities.

PracticalAdultInsights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PracticalAdultInsights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon997434 — On Jan 06, 2017

How do zoologists affect soil (negative or positive)?

By Mor — On Nov 30, 2012
@anon43379: It's always going to be easier for some people than for others. I did a number of zoology focused papers when I was at university and I think they are different from what a lot of young people expect.

For starters, you'll have to be able to dissect animals, because there will be few zoology programs where you don't have to do that. And it's not just rats. We dissected a live chicken embryo and a lamb while I was in that class. Secondly, even though one of the classes went to study animals at the zoo, it was quite tedious. We stood for hours observing a troupe of monkeys, noting down whenever any of them did anything and what time that happened.

Real zoologists are mostly the same. They aren't all sitting with the gorillas or swimming with the dolphins. It's usually monotonous, dirty work and it can often be soul crushing as well, especially if you're working with endangered animals. Plus a zoologist's salary isn't big bucks.

The world needs more passionate zoologists, so don't let me dissuade you, but the key word here is "passion". You'll need it.

By bythewell — On Nov 30, 2012
@anon32364: It really depends on what they do and your definition of zoologist. Some people might call anyone with a degree in zoology a zoologist, but technically, you'd need to be studying animals in some context for that to be true. The people who work at a marine park might be zoologists, because they probably do have degrees, and they might also be zoologists even if they don't have degrees, because they might be conducting scientific studies on their animals.

But, if they are simply caring for the animals and training them, then no, I wouldn't call them zoologists. Dolphins and other marine life are wonderful and require a lot of knowledge to care for properly, but in terms of the job title, just knowing how to care for them is no different from knowing how to care for a dog. They would just be called "animal trainers" or something similar.

By Fa5t3r — On Nov 29, 2012
@anon261226: You can, but people who do that are more often called marine biologists, I guess because they are often working with plants and microbes as well as animals.

I suppose the more correct term would be a marine zoologist, but I've hardly ever heard people call themselves that.

By anon290478 — On Sep 09, 2012

How has zoology changed since it was founded?

By anon261226 — On Apr 14, 2012

Can you be a zoologist who studies marine life?

By anon109085 — On Sep 05, 2010

What are three descriptions of a zoologist's work environment?

By anon91660 — On Jun 23, 2010

where can i learn to handle snakes?

By anon84976 — On May 18, 2010

how many people are registered as a zoologist?

By nocompliment — On Apr 05, 2010

well a zoologist is a person who studies the science of animals such as behaviors or why animals migrate etc. hope this answers your question.

By anon71354 — On Mar 18, 2010

thanks a lot. i needed it for my project.

By anon43379 — On Aug 28, 2009

is this a good career to have and how is the studying? is it easier for some people more than others?

By anon32364 — On May 20, 2009

would people who work at sea world and train dolphins be considered zoologist?

By anon23297 — On Dec 20, 2008

Thanks Tricia Ellis-Christensen for writing this article! It help me a lot!

Greetings from Puerto Rico! -Janisse

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PracticalAdultInsights contributor,...
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