Doing Wildlife Surveys

By Eric Hammer

You know those organizations that do wildlife surveys? They send people out into the wild to take pictures, count the number of animals of any given species left in the wild, tag animals in the wild and generally do good things for wildlife conservation. Have you ever thought you'd enjoy doing that? If so, you may want to get a job as a wildlife specialist.

A wildlife specialist is just what it sounds like - someone who goes out to work with wildlife. Unlike a zoologist who is more generalized in working with animals, a wildlife specialist works exclusively with, well, wildlife. That means you get to know the animals in their native habitats, what they eat, how they act and what's involved in being a member of that species.

While wildlife surveys are a very big part of the job of a wildlife specialist, they are not the only part. You'll also be called upon to study the animals in question, tag some of them so they can be tracked using GPS signals and generally write papers on the habits of specific species.

How Much Can You Make?

According to, the average salary for a wildlife specialist is approximately $46,000 per year. However, that number can vary quite a bit depending on where you work, how much experience you have and what kind of credentials you have.

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One of the things people generally like about doing this kind of work is that it's fairly isolated. Your job doesn't really involve much contact with people (though you will be in close contact with animals!) and that is something that you need to keep in mind. If you are not the sort who enjoys working alone and or in small teams (since often, it will be you, an assistant and perhaps a guide out in the field, for months at a time), then you should consider other work. On the other hand, if that appeals to you, then this may be the perfect job for your needs.

Remember as well that a wildlife specialist can do more than just taking wildlife surveys. You could also work in a lab or even as a lecturer. For that matter, while you would be a little specialized for the job, you can work in a zoo as well, since you'd have a better idea of what animals do in their natural habitat and you could study the variations for animals kept and or born and bred in captivity.

Qualifications / Requirements

You will need to have at least a bachelor's degree in wildlife conservation. Ideally, you should consider a master's degree and possibly even a PhD. While the amount of training is high with a somewhat low reward for your years of study, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, if you have the temperament for this kind of work.

First Steps

Start by offering to volunteer with organizations that study wildlife and conduct wildlife surveys. A few examples are listed below to get you started, though you can find more on Google or your favorite search engine. Talk to the people you'll meet and ask them how to get into this business on a professional level. Generally, wildlife conservationists and specialists are happy to talk about their work with like minded individuals (though they tend to not be the most talkative people when it comes to the general public). So, if you express genuine interest and willingness to learn, you will likely find yourself one or several mentors in your quest this way.


Check out these helpful resources to find out more about doing wildlife surveys and getting jobs in the world of wildlife in general:

Diploma Studies: Online Studies in Wildlife Conservation - While it's aimed at those interested in learning online, the information here is applicable for anyone interested wildlife conservation.

Melissa Kalan: Animal Related Careers - An excellent blog post describing careers in wildlife conservation and wildlife surveys. The survey information here is a bit dated though.

Wildlife Conservation Network - An organization active in wildlife surveys.

World Wildlife Fund - Another organization (and one of the best known in the world) which conducts wildlife surveys and hires wildlife specialists.

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