Dr. Rebecca Dannock, 29, Project Manager at Elephants for Africa (Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana)
When I was 13, I travelled to Botswana and was exposed to various careers in conservation and tourism. I also learned a lot about the many challenges wildlife face in Africa, including climate change and conflict with humans. I knew I wanted to help, and my passion for animals certainly made my career choice a lot easier.
Fast-forward a few years: I pursued a Bachelor of Science and spent an additional year completing a research project to achieve an honours degree in zoology. After that, I pursued my PhD while observing the behaviour of wildebeest in Etosha National Park, Namibia, which allowed me to hone my skills in research, project management and bush-living.
As a project manager I oversee all of Elephants for Africa‘s work in Botswana, including our community projects where we work alongside farmers to help them mitigate or prevent crop raiding by elephants; our education work where we lead and instruct environmental clubs at local primary schools; and our research that has been developed to understand the ecology of elephants in the area. We then use our findings to reduce human-elephant conflict.
I think the important thing to remember is that very few conservation jobs are 100% research-based. Most require you to either manage people, oversee a research camp, or apply for funding. In my case, it’s all the above. It’s also important to make sure you can live the lifestyle. Often you are in remote areas with a small team and in basic living conditions (living in a tent, limited power and outdoor showers), so be prepared to make some sacrifices if you want to live in the field!
How to Start
Studying and working with the animal kingdom typically requires an undergraduate and/or graduate degree in zoology or biology. A zoologist can study a broad range of organisms – from tiny insects to giant mammals – and can specialize in many areas including animal behaviour, developmental biology, taxonomy, physiology or anatomy. A love for animals is a must, as is a passion for research, wildlife conservation and working outdoors.
Students of zoology will investigate the relationships between animals and their environment, learn how to analyze data and evaluate specimens, and prepare scientific papers that report on experimental results. Some zoos and animal care facilities offer volunteer programs, which are good starting points for aspiring zoologists.
Where You Can Go
Zoologists commonly work outdoors observing animals; however, they can also feel equally at home in an office or laboratory setting. For example, some zoologists work with government departments, research institutes, environmental firms and non-profit organizations to assist in conservation and endangered species management. Some dedicate their lives to preparing or writing scientific research papers or textbooks, and others may work at zoos as zookeepers, curators or directors.
The Basics: Zoologist
$40,695: Median salary for an entry-level zoologist. According to Zoologist Salary Canada, professionals with several years of experience can earn upwards of $78,500 per year.
+5%: Projected rate of job growth over the next eight years.
Kyle Reynolds is an Administrative & Quality Assurance Specialist with The Career Foundation.