Whether you dream of becoming an exotic animal trainer, working in a fish and wildlife job, or want to pursue a career in environmental education, the basic steps to getting jobs in wildlife are much the same. These jobs, even if they are considered entry-level jobs, usually require that you have experience and education. This is because working with wildlife both hands-on and from a distance require a basic understanding of biology, chemistry, ecology, animal nutrition, and/or animal behavior and it is crucial that you have the ability to apply that knowledge in your daily job. Without both you cannot effectively do your best for wildlife.
For example, having exceptional academic knowledge of how to treat and heal a wound in an animal will not prepare you to treat and heal the wound caused by a fishhook embedded in an angry and uncooperative 10-pound white pelican with a razor sharp large beak. Likewise, having good animal handling skills and a passion for wildlife alone, without the educational background, will not help you properly remove that fishhook, and know how to treat and clean the wound on a pelican. Treating the same wound on a mammal can be different. In any job working with animals, you will rely on book knowledge and experience every day.
Also, to get a job in wildlife, you have to be competitive. No matter the field, the jobs are limited and the competition stiff. The more experience and education you have, the better positioned you will be when applying for jobs.
So how do you get a job in wildlife? You actually have many options for getting that dream job. You do however, have to be willing to work for it.
No matter where you live, there will be numerous opportunities for volunteer work. Most organizations related to wildlife rely in some way on volunteers. All you have to do is find those volunteer opportunities and show up—you will be put to work. Look for volunteer opportunities at your local zoo, wildlife rehabilitation center, state or national park, or wildlife preserve. Even volunteering for your local animal shelter will give you valuable experience you can use in a future career and put on your resume. Also, if you want to have a career in environmental or outdoor education try volunteering with kids programs, such as with a horse therapy program, or find volunteer opportunities in the local schools.
Some jobs in wildlife positions may or may not require a bachelor’s degree. Some will require a masters or even a Ph.D. Most will require some college. The academic path you take to getting a wildlife, conservation, environmental, or other related job will depend on your career objectives. In general, courses and degrees in zoology, biology, botany, chemistry, conservation, parks and recreation, education, geographic information systems, land use, environmental law, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), your state’s equivalent to NEPA such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and environmental sciences will help you get a job in the wildlife field.
Take Entry-Level Jobs
Look for entry-level positions to apply for so that you can gain experience and fill your resume. Such a position may not pay well, or be exactly what you want to do, but you will benefit from the knowledge gained and by showing you are willing to work hard at any job that helps wildlife. Some positions that are sometimes opened to those with little to no experience are kennel attendant, administrative positions, internships, and research assistants.
Many national and local associations represent those working with wildlife. From the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) to the National Association of Environmental Professionals, there’s sure to be one or several that interest you. Through a professional association you can learn from other professionals, learn about current topics affecting the field, gain access to job boards, and make contacts with people in a position to hire new staff.
Attend Conferences and Seminars
Through your college, association memberships, and volunteer position you can learn about upcoming conferences and seminars relevant to your career interests. Some require travel while others only require attendance at your computer for a webinar. Attend any conferences and seminars that you can. You will learn about aspects of wildlife work that you cannot learn from your college courses and meet people already working with wildlife.
Where to Apply for Wildlife Jobs
Your volunteer position will be the best resource you have for finding a job in wildlife. Organizations that rely on volunteers will take notice of their hardest working volunteers that show talent and promise. And they usually prefer to hire one of their own rather than post a job position to the general public. Also, you can use your association membership to gain access to its job boards. Find the various job announcements at your college. Colleges may have several places that companies can post job openings for current or graduating students including the career center and within each department. You can also find jobs in the federal, city, and county governments. Many parks, preserves, zoos, and research projects are funded by the government.