Research

Zoo Careers

Research

Research Department(s)

  1. Some positions within a zoological institution have an important effect on the lives of the animals, but the individuals who work in these positions don't always have much direct physical contact with them. Filled with people who have dedicated their lives to animals, these positions are near the top of the zoological career ladder. Although titles may vary across institutions, all individuals in this department are considered researchers.

    A wide variety of information is gathered by reseachers who study animals both in zoological parks and in the wild. Observing an animal's diet, breeding behavior, and social interactions with others of their species provides clues on how to meet all their needs in a zoological park. Studying animals in a zoological park, however, is often the best and sometimes the only way to observe and record behaviors that would be difficult or impossible to study in the wild, especially those of very rare or endangered wildlife. What researchers learn from animals in zoological parks plays an important role in creating and maintaining Species Survival Plans, and setting criteria for preserving habitats and ecosystems.

Positions

  1. BEHAVIORIST
    • Main job duties:
      • Behaviorists observe an animal's behavior as it relates to breeding, as well as its response behavior to changes in its surroundings, specifically to provide insight regarding an animal's natural history. They are responsible for maintaining accurate records and conducting behavioral research studies on animals. Some of a behaviorist's observations result in exhibit changes that make the environment more stimulating and/or comfortable for the animal.
    • Education:
      • Master's or doctorate degree in psychology or biological sciences
    • Initial training:
      • A minimum of two years experience in field research and animal observation
    • Works closely with:
      • Veterinarians, curators, Animal Care Specialists, and Design and Engineering department
    • Challenges:
      • A behaviorist in a zoological institution often must obtain funding for research. In addition, they must maintain sensitivity to central issues, such as balancing the needs for public display of animals and the needs of the facilities to learn about them through research.
  2. REGISTRAR
    • Main job duties:
      • The registrar maintains extensive records on the animal collection. Specifically, a registrar documents animal births and deaths, updates and manages studbooks, charts pedigrees, handles paperwork when animals are transferred or loaned to other institutions, and tracks the offspring resulting from breeding loans.
    • Education:
      • Bachelor's degree in zoology or biological sciences
    • Initial training:
      • Minimum one year of experience with a computerized animal inventory
    • Works closely with:
      • All animal services departments, curators, and government agencies
    • Challenges:
      • The registrar must ensure accurate channels of both written and verbal communication. Attention to detail is crucial, and documentation can sometimes become overwhelming. The position often requires a heavy amount of reading in order to stay current on all government rules and regulations regarding animal maintenance and trade.
  3. GENETICIST
    • Main job duties:
      • By studying animals' DNA and determining how closely individual animals are related, geneticists assist in the development of breeding programs and Species Survival Plans. A geneticist at a zoological park also proposes and conducts research projects involving endangered species management programs in parks and in the wild.
    • Education:
      • Master's degree in molecular biology and genetics
    • Initial training:
      • Several years experience in genetic research for conservation of endangered species
    • Works closely with:
      • General Manager, Director of Research, curators (in other zoological parks as well as their own), conservation organizations, Research and Development department, and the Education department
    • Challenges:
      • This position requires a significant amount of reading to keep up-to-date with technological advances, issues, and research findings of others. A geneticist must actively seek research funds by writing grants, papers, and attending fundraising events.
  4. RESEARCH BIOLOGIST
    • Main job duties:
      • A research biologist plans, conducts, and reports the results of studies on animals in the institution's collection. He or she may chart the dynamics of herd members, determine the optimum brooding temperature for bird or reptile eggs, or study how long a certain species of mammal nurses its young. The information a research biologist uncovers is helpful to the people caring for animals in a zoological park, while also contributing to the understanding of how species in the wild live, and how human activities may affect them.
    • Education:
      • Master's degree in biological sciences
    • Initial training:
      • Graduate school, and many years work experience within the zoological community
    • Works closely with:
      • Curators, all animal services departments, laboratory staff, Education department, Public Relations department, and Administration
    • Challenges:
      • A Research Biologist has a central position in a zoological institution. Many departments depend on this position for reference updates and current animal information. The Research Biologist juggles many projects simultaneously, and is often responsible for the financing, accuracy, and completion of those projects.
  5. FIELD BIOLOGIST
    • Main job duties:
      • Field Biologists document the findings of wildlife research outside of a zoological park. These findings provide information helpful to the care and management of the animals in a zoological institution's collection. In addition to designing and implementing studies and research projects, field biologists assist in creating conservation programs to protect species in the wild.
    • Education:
      • Master's degree in biological sciences
    • Initial training:
      • Graduate school and many years work experience within the zoological community
    • Works closely with:
      • Curators, veterinary staff, and administration
    • Challenges:
      • Field biologists often are required to spend long hours (often weeks or months) in primitive living conditions, sometimes exposed to intense weather, disease, and dangerous situations.

Profile

Dr. Daniel K. Odell

Research Biologist
SeaWorld, Inc.

What do you like most about your job?
The variety of projects I work on. Also, the opportunity to help teach people about the real world.

What are some of the things you learned in high school that you use now?
Typing is probably the number one thing. Also the basic science, especially math - it's a way of logical thinking I really rely on.

What's your most unforgettable moment on the job?
There's two, actually...watching a killer whale being born, and getting a visit from past President of the United States, George Bush.

What advice do you have for young people who would like to do what you do?
Get a foundation in all the sciences (math, chemistry, physics, etc.), become computer literate, and be persistent about going to graduate school - be willing to go where the opportunity is.