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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:
- 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.
- Study animal behavior, called ethology.
- Study and compare animal anatomy.
- Genetically evaluate single animals or more commonly animal populations.
- Classify animals.
- Evaluate how animals have changed over time (evolutionary biology).
- Study extinct animals (paleozoology).
- Study animals that were thought extinct but have been found to still be living (cryptozoology).
- 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.