National Parks, Zoos, and Wildlife Centers
The great outdoors seems like a wonderful place to work. You can spend your days outside leading rugged nature hikes, operating a boat filled with tourists who want to spot a dolphin or whale, or taking water samples back to a laboratory. Mother Nature can be quite seductive, except on those snowy, wet days.
Many marine biologists, who are charmed by the treasures of the sea, know that Mother Nature can be fickle. The just-out-of-college entry-level worker can be in for a major shock. Those calm, cool waters of the summer months are totally bone-chilling in February in most parts of the country.
Working at a national park means spending a good deal of time outdoors. The same goes for having a career at a zoo or wildlife center. Some of the time can be spent inside; however, you will spend the majority of the time outside. At Six Flags Great Adventure & Wild Safari, most of the animal wardens (zookeepers) spend a good portion of their days outdoors, caring for the animals.
People who study animals in their natural environments must love traveling and camping. Chris Morgan, a bear expert who is working on a documentary called BearTrek about all of the bear species in the world, works from a home base in Washington State.
However, he spends many nights on the road traveling from one country to another. He may be in the jungles in Borneo studying the sun bear or in Alaska observing black bears, brown or grizzly bears, Kodiak bears, and polar bears. Sleeping in tents and traveling with the bare essentials are part of the job.
It seems that while all workers at national parks, zoos, and wildlife centers commune with Mother Nature during a good part of their workday, upper management spends more time inside at meetings, creating policy.
Many animal workers at national parks and wildlife centers do get to go home at night, which can be especially welcome on rainy, cold days. However, those who work at national parks — such as the park rangers at the White Mountains in New Hampshire — can be seen walking the trails dressed in rain gear on those wet days. At the height of camping season they are outdoors in all kinds of weather.
The romance of the great outdoors can be quickly washed away in a blizzard or thunderstorm. However, most of these workers will tell you that they love their jobs, and that most of them knew what they were getting into. For all of the bad weather, there are many more sunny days on the job. A common mantra you will hear from department heads at these outdoor parks is “if you are having a bad day, go outside.” It's true; being around the mountains, trees, ponds, lakes, and oceans — and spotting an animal — makes it all worthwhile.
To get a job at a national park, zoo, or wildlife center, you must be willing to relocate. You have to go where the jobs are. The good news is that there are zoos and wildlife centers in almost every state in the country.