Ecologists aim to understand interactions between organisms and their environments. These interactions in part shape the environments by determining, for example, the distributions and abundances of animals in them. The research approach of ecologists may be either functional or evolutionary and the application of research results requires a thorough biological background and an ability to analyse data. In practice, ecologists are frequently involved with conservation and land management, which requires intelligent interpretation and application of biological principles.
Students with an interest in ecology are encouraged to major in zoology. Some background in botany, statistics and computer science are also valuable and a higher university degree (M.Sc. or Ph.D.) is a prerequisite for those interested in research in ecology or for those wishing to play a key role in conservation and other environmental issues.
Graduates with a background in ecology find employment in national, provincial and municipal institutions involved with conservation and/or environmental utilisation. These include National and Provincial conservation agencies and the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism. Ecologists are also in demand in private game parks, private consulting firms, environmental divisions of large corporations or non-governmental organisations with an interest in the environment and conservation, and industries whose by-products may adversely affect the environment.