Zoological Society of Southern Africa (ZSSA)


A Career in Zoology

For many people, Zoologists are individuals they see in wildlife documentaries on TV. Here, the intrepid researcher is seen studying lions in East Africa, insects in the Amazon jungle, whales off Hawaii, or penguins in the Antarctic. This is the glamorous side of Zoology and, of course, not everyone is able to enjoy such opportunities. Nevertheless, Zoology can offer a variety of exciting, stimulating and rewarding careers. It is the aim of this web site to give people with an interest in nature and the environment some idea of the scope of Zoology, how one goes about becoming a Zoologist and what employment opportunities currently exist for Zoologists.

What is Zoology?

In its broadest sense, Zoology is the study of animals and a Zoologist is a scientist who studies animals and their environment or habitats. Animals, in this context, are any living organisms that are not plants, fungi, viruses or bacteria (the study of these organisms is the realm of the botanists and microbiologists). Animals include creatures like the marine sponges (which don’t look much like animals), jellyfish, worms, rock lobsters, snails, insects, fishes, frogs, birds and mammals.

Types of Zoologists

The field of Zoology has many different disciplines such as cell biology, physiology, marine biology, behaviour, and ecology, to name but a few. Zoologists can also study animals at the level of the cell, organ systems, whole animals, animal communities or whole ecosystems. Zoologists can consequently be divided and classified on the basis of their area of speciality. An anatomist, for example, studies the body organisation of animals, an ethologist studies animal behaviour, a physiologist studies how animals work and ecologists study how animals interact with their environment and other animals in it. Zoologists can also be divided on the basis of the animal groups on which they work; Entomologists study insects and Herpetologists, Ornithologists and Mammalogists work on snakes and amphibians, birds, and mammals, respectively.

Some Zoologists work in “pure” fields whereas others work in “applied” fields. Pure, basic or fundamental science can be interpreted as “science for its own sake” and is concerned with increasing our knowledge of how living things work. It provides the foundation for applied science. Applied science, as its name suggests, involves applying scientific knowledge to specific problems. For example, a Zoologist (who may be a mammalogist) may study a population of mice in the wild in order to understand how population numbers of mice fluctuate and what environmental factors are responsible for these fluctuations. This is pure research. He/she (or another Zoologist) may then apply this knowledge to control populations of mice that are causing an economic problem because they are eating stored grain. This is applied science. Many studies that fall into the applied sciences have major implications for man and the environment.

Cell biologists:Study animal cells and their functions
Ecologists:Study animals and their interactions with their environments and humans.
Conservation biologists:Control and manage animal populations and their habitats.
Physiologists:Study how animals function and how they are adapted to live in their environments.
Systematists:Study evolutionary relationships between living and fossil animals and categorise animals.
Palaeontologists:Study evolutionary relationships between fossil animals
Taxonomists:Discover and describe new species or animal groups.
Entomologists:Study insects. Some study the roles and control of insect pests.
Herpetologists:Study amphibians and reptiles
Ornithologists:Study birds
Mammalogists:Study mammals
Parasitologists:Study parasites
Epidemiologists:Study the spread of diseases.
Ethologists:Study animal behaviour
Ichthyologists, Fisheries biologists:Study fish, fish populations and ways of growing fish and other aquatic animals
Aquaculturists:Study fish populations and ways of growing fish for commercial use.
Geneticists:Study the genetics of animals
Developmental biologists:Study the genetics of animals and how animals develop and grow.
Animal nutritionists:Study the diets and digestive capabilities of animals.
Animal photographers & illustrators:Produce photos and drawings of animals for books, films etc.
Consultants:Advise others on animals and the environment.
Writers and producers:Inform others about animals and the environment through journalism, books and films.