From Animal Trainer to Zoologist: Myriad Careers
When considering a career in working with animals, most people immediately think “veterinarian.” Within the veterinary field there are many specialties. The numbers of careers are as varied as the requirements. Some positions require a college degree followed by four years at veterinary school. If you specialize in dentistry or ophthalmology, add another year of school. Other jobs, such as working in a pet store or shelter, require a high school diploma. Most other jobs, such as working in the development office of a humane society or working as an environmental educator, require a college degree.
While it's true that the majority of veterinarians work in private practice, they also work in large animal hospitals, on farms, and in zoos and wildlife centers. Did you know that NASA employs veterinarians to conduct experiments in space so they can learn about human and animal diseases?
The career field is large, and one that is constantly changing with the times. “As our concern for the environment deepens, we will have a need for environmental educators,” says Christopher O'Sullivan, environmental educator at the Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park, which is part of New York State Parks and Palisades Interstate Park Commission. “I see this field changing because of our concerns about global warming and other environmental issues. As educators, we work with schools and corporations to broaden public awareness about our interaction with animals and our surrounding environments.”
Susan Smith, a research and development director for Palisades Interstate Park Commission, agrees. “Corporations have taken a major interest in our parks,” she says. “Filling out grant applications for various cleanup and restoration projects is more detailed. Corporations want to be green, and they want to associate with us. The forms are more detailed. They want to know where their money and manpower are going. It's a good situation for everyone involved.”
Most people are aware that corporations donate money to nonprofit environmental centers. However, many big businesses are also hosting volunteer days, allowing their employees to donate time. For instance, seventeen employees from USB Bank spent a day cleaning out Rockland Lake in New York State. Volunteer manpower is always welcome among nonprofits.
Another new field with lots of growth potential is working on the government level or for private research facilities. There are crime scene investigative (CSI) units for animals, disaster relief and response teams that rescue animals, and high-tech surveillance units that are working with insects to create bug-size spy drones. Spy technology or robot bugs (using real flies) sounds like something James Bond would employ. However, with the government's keen interest in homeland security, many new opportunities in the intelligence fields are opening up for people who want to work with insects and animals.
With new opportunities, many traditional jobs are also going through changes. Zoo directors and zookeepers have seen their surroundings vastly improve. The days of the small barred cages are over. Visitors to zoos want to see animals in their natural environments. That has opened up the field for zoo designers.
Traditional jobs of zoo director and zookeeper have also evolved. They have always been caretakers and educators. Now they also work closely with zoo designers to create the best home for the animals. Most important, many are working to study endangered populations and reintroduce them into the wild.
A number of U.S. government agencies, private entities, and universities are creating cyber bugs — live insects with computer chips in them. The hope is to use these bugs as spyware. They are remote controlled, and could be used to follow suspects, guide missiles, or find survivors in collapsed mines or buildings.
The job outlook for zoo directors is among the most limited because zoos have a low turnover. However, zookeepers and directors have other opportunities. They don't have to work at a traditional zoo. Wildlife centers, natural history museums, and other nonprofits where animals are involved often look for people with zoo experience.