What do animals think about? How can we learn about them? How can we learn from them? Why do they behave in a certain manner? Researchers, who can be scientists and behaviorists, are employed at a large number of zoos and wildlife parks in the country. Their objective is to understand animal behavior and to educate the public about those behaviors.
The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to Think Tank, a place where visitors to the zoo can learn about the tools an animal uses, its language, and how that animal interacts with others. Think Tank researchers study an animal's behavior. As part of the National Zoo's Orangutan Language Project, visitors can watch researchers teaching orangutans to use symbols and syntax to express their thoughts.
Researchers at the San Diego Zoo in California study animals, their habitats, and their social behaviors as well. Most of their work involves teaching the public about the animals' behavior. By becoming educated about animals, people often wind up caring about them. Many zoos have programs that educate the public about endangered species.
Gorillas, Siberian tigers, pandas, and elephants are just a few of the endangered animals listed on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The Red List includes 15,589 species that face extinction. Research scientists are working to educate the public about this crisis and its effect on the public.
The San Diego Zoo's center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES) is the largest zoo-based multidisciplinary research team in America. CRES, which formed 30 years ago, has grown from a small research institution to one that includes international field conservation programs in more than 20 countries. From the center's inception, CRES scientists have worked to gather and disseminate research about the conservation and recovery of endangered species.
Competition for researchers at zoos and wildlife centers is intense. Having an advanced degree, either a master's or doctorate in biology and animal behavior, is necessary. It also helps to have excellent writing and public speaking skills. To get your foot in the door, volunteer in the research department at a zoo or wildlife center.
Starting out in this profession, expect to make between $35,000 and $45,000. With several years of experience on the job, salaries jump to $60,000 to $90,000, depending on the size and location of the institution.