How Do I Become a Wildlife Biologist? - Education, Certification & Requirements

Get to know the type of work done by wildlife biologists and the skills it takes to become one. Explore the education requirements, certification options, salary, and projected job growth to determine if this profession is right for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Wildlife biologists carry out experimental studies to observe animals in their natural habitat. They are responsible for determining how a species affects and is affected by its environment and for developing conservation efforts in order to maintain the overall health of wildlife populations. In the table below, you'll find information regarding the education requirements, certification options, essential skills, and median salary for wildlife biologists.

Education Required Bachelor's degree required for entry-level positions; master's degree or Ph.D. required for advanced scientific research
Education Field of Study Wildlife biology
Certification Available through The Wildlife Society; not mandatory
Required Skills Critical-thinking skills, outdoors skills, emotional stability, and communication skills
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026) 8% (for all zoologists and wildlife biologists)*
Median Income (2017) $62,290 annually (for all zoologists and wildlife biologists)*

Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Wildlife Biologists Do?

Wildlife biologists are tasked with determining the role a species plays in an ecosystem through scientific observation and evaluation. They are responsible for recording and monitoring population data and collecting wildlife samples as well as identifying invasive plants and animals and figuring out how to minimize the harm they cause. Wildlife biologists must be able to synthesize these findings in order to develop effective conservation plans with the goal of maintaining or restoring the health of a species. Wildlife biologists are then responsible for writing research reports and scholarly articles as well as giving presentations to communicate their findings to the public. It is the role of the wildlife biologist to make recommendations to policymakers and the general public in terms of how to conserve and restore wildlife populations effectively.

What Should I Study to Become a Wildlife Biologist?

Entry-level positions for a career in wildlife biology typically require a bachelor's degree. Wildlife biology, zoology, and ecology programs all offer the necessary preparation for a career in the field. Because wildlife biologists must understand the multifaceted nature of an ecosystem, students typically take classes in such subjects as wildlife management, chemistry, physics, statistics, and cellular biology. These courses allow students to develop a well-rounded academic background in the sciences, which is essential to the work done by wildlife biologists. While earning a bachelor's degree, wildlife biologists can also specialize in a specific species or group of species, such as birds or reptiles and amphibians.

In order to conduct advanced scientific research through either independent projects or university positions, master's degrees or Ph.D.s are required. Continued education for a wildlife biologist is comprised of both advanced scientific research and courses in software, which is essential for collecting and analyzing data.

What Types of Certifications Are Available for Wildlife Biologists?

Wildlife biologists are not required to maintain any levels of certification; however, The Wildlife Society does offer a variety of certifications for wildlife biologists to achieve. These certifications distinguish wildlife biologists for their levels of education, experience, and ethical practice. The two types of certification include Associate Wildlife Biologist (AWB) and Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB).

AWB certification proves that a wildlife biologist has completed the necessary academic requirements, including a set number of hours in a variety of core courses, including the sciences, math, policy and administration, and the humanities.

Wildlife biologists can work towards a CWB certification after earning the AWB certification and acquiring five years of professional wildlife work experience. The CWB certification must be renewed every five years by completing continued learning and professional development programs or courses. These certifications could work to the advantage of a wildlife biologist when applying for positions in a competitive field.

What Skills Do Wildlife Biologists Need?

Wildlife biologists need critical-thinking skills in order to determine what needs to be observed and how it can be accomplished, and then they must draw reasonable conclusions from those observations. While conducting research and observing animals, biologists also need an array of outdoor skills. They often must make their way through remote wilderness areas with their equipment, so a wildlife biologist's ability to endure the natural elements is essential. Fieldwork also requires that wildlife biologists spend a significant amount of time alone in order to observe certain species. Thus, emotional stability is also essential in order for wildlife biologists to do their job well. After research has been conducted and synthesized, communication skills are just as important for portraying the findings to policymakers, universities, and the general public.

How Much Do Wildlife Biologists Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median income of $62,290 as of May 2017. Job opportunities for these professionals are expected to increase 8% during the 2016-2026 decade. As human populations continue to grow and expand, the threats that ecosystems face continue to develop as well. Wildlife biologists will be tasked with observing and creating responses to problems such as climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution. Management and conservation plans will become increasingly relevant.

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