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Lions, tigers and bears are three of the many thousands of animal species that zoologists study. They research all aspects of animal life, including where animals live and how they interact with their surroundings. Zoology encompasses the workings of the entire animal kingdom, from viruses to horses, and includes a vast array of disciplines. A zoologist studies or works with animal life, its origins, characteristics, life processes, behavior, evolution and relationship with other organisms.

Zoology can be both a basic and applied science. In the basic form, the zoologist studies living things but may not consider whether the information gained is immediately useful. Applied zoology applies already known knowledge of animals to research projects that attempt to better humankind or other animal life. Zoologists study animal life at all levels of organization - ecosystem, community, population, whole organism, cellular and molecular. Animals studied can include any from the wide diversity of phyla including protozoans, jellyfish, worms, snails, insects, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Some people envision a zoologist as someone crawling around the jungle studying monkeys' behavior patterns or out on African safaris working with zebras and giraffes. In fact, some zoologists do study animals in their natural habitats yet the majority of others work in zoos, laboratories and research stations. Basically, zoologists work in a wide range of fields and specialize in different types of work and animals. Besides the descriptions mentioned already, some may also work as aquarium directors, conservationists, park rangers or museum curators.

In general, all zoology specializations involve work with animals, either in the wild or in a lab. Some zoologists study the entire organism, others look at only parts of it. Also, zoology is not merely an observational pastime for natural history buffs, but involves analytical research and experimental laboratory components like all other biological sciences. As with other disciplines, they work outdoors in the field and in laboratories using a wide variety of scientific equipment. Some zoologists conduct field research in remote areas and harsh climates, which may involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living conditions.

Some zoologists focus their careers on studying animal health and animal rights. They advocate against scientists who do harmful testing on animals, such as lipstick producers who test on monkeys, and fight against inhumane and unfair animal treatment, hunting and poaching. These days, some zoologists work on finding alternatives to animal testing or at least reducing the number of animals tested, and refining arguably necessary tests to eliminate pain and distress.
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  Interests and Skills  
Zoologists must have an interest in nature and an appreciation for all forms of animal life. They also have the ability to work outdoors for extended periods of time. Most have a serious concern for the environment, and are interested in protecting endangered species and the habitats of wildlife. Most zoologists are open to interpreting facts in different ways, and have the ability to work both alone with animals or in teams. They should have strong communication skills, both written and oral, and enjoy synthesizing information.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study animals and their natural habitat and interactions with their environment
  • Organize and implement studies to analyze and monitor ongoing wildlife and habitat projects
  • Inventory plant and animal communities
  • Carry out environmental impact assessments
  • Conduct field research and analyze, interpret and report their findings
  • Report findings and make recommendations on management systems and planning for wildlife populations and habitat
  • Estimate animal and wildlife populations for management programs
  • Consult with stakeholders and the public at large to explore animal and wildlife management options
  • Make recommendations regarding the sustainable development of resources
  • Recommend operating conditions for industrial activities to negate or minimize damage to animals or their habitat
  • Coordinate preventive programs to control the outbreak of animal diseases
  • Provide information, make presentations and give talks for schools, clubs, interest groups and parks interpretive programs
  • Prepare informative brochures, books, slide shows, information videos and computer programs
  • Zoologists may work more than a standard 40-hour week, particularly when involved in research studies. They work both indoors conducting experiments in laboratories and outdoors doing field research. Fieldwork can be strenuous and may require living in remote locations for extended periods of time. Safety precautions are required to avoid injury when dealing with predatory animals, handling poisonous or allergenic insects and toxic chemicals.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Zoologists may work in research or consulting with governments, in large environmental companies that conduct environmental assessments and manage reclamation projects, for large resource-based corporations such as pulp and paper producers and oil and gas companies. They also work in museums, zoos, aquariums, hospitals, and as private ecological consultants with organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, or as technical sales representatives, inspectors or laboratory technicians. Zoologists with PhDs can teach at universities and lead students with research projects.

  Long Term Career Potential  
One of the fastest growing areas of employment for zoologists is as environmental consultants or ecologists. They offer expert information on the impact of industrial projects on wildlife and their habitat. These biologists often freelance or work for companies that contract their services. For example, they may provide research reports and recommendations regarding pipeline or hydroelectric dam projects, chemical and herbicide manufacture, forest industry activities, or mineral and oil exploration activities.

  Educational Paths  
A four-year Bachelor of Science degree in zoology or a related biological science is the minimum requirement for entry into the field of zoology. However, most zoologists have a master's or doctoral degree. A master's degree in zoology is often required and strongly recommended for work as a zoologist, environmental consultant, or advisor with an international assistance agency. A PhD is required to work as a researcher or university instructor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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