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What is Wildlife Ecology?

Wildlife ecology is the science of understanding how animals interact with their natural habitats and with each other. It's a vital field that helps us protect biodiversity and manage ecosystems sustainably. By studying animal behaviors, population dynamics, and environmental impacts, we gain insights crucial for conservation efforts. Ready to explore how these intricate ecological puzzles piece together to shape our natural world?
Ken Black
Ken Black

Wildlife ecology is a field that studies animals, especially animal populations, and seeks to identify ways in which those populations can be helped. Some wildlife ecology programs may focus specifically on how those animals interact with humans, while others will study all aspects of animals. The main objective of an ecologist working in this setting is to promote healthy animal conservation. To do this, the ecologist will not only concern himself with animals, but also the habitats in which they live.

Those involved in a wildlife ecology career will often pursue disciplines in education, research and conservation. These fields could involve a substantial amount of time dealing with the general public. They can also involve a great deal of time working in the field, collecting data or even conducting tours. Other career choices in wildlife ecology include law enforcement and public relations. Some may use a degree in wildlife ecology to pursue an advanced degree in veterinary medicine. Many of those in the wildlife ecology field also stay in school to pursue advanced degrees due to the highly competitive environment over the available jobs.

Some marine ecologists study coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems.
Some marine ecologists study coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems.

Wildlife ecologists pursuing research will look at the sustainability of species. Primary areas of concern will be habitat destruction, competition from invasive species, and human interference. Some wildlife ecologists will focus on what constitutes a healthy population, and even recommend ways of controlling the population so that it does not become unhealthy. Those populations that fall under a certain number may need some help in recovering, including special legal protections.

Wildlife ecology has helped bring back the American alligator.
Wildlife ecology has helped bring back the American alligator.

For those animals that do need special protection, ecologists may recommend inclusion on the endangered or threatened species list. Often, this will mean access to additional funding in order to come up with a plan or programs to protect the remaining animals. These types of programs have been successful in helping a number of different species. The endangered species program has been credited with the return of the bald eagle and the American alligator.

Wildlife ecologists are concerned with habitats as well as animals.
Wildlife ecologists are concerned with habitats as well as animals.

In some cases, those involved in wildlife ecology will examine sustainable hunting practices, and create rules and regulations for that hunting. This is why there are hunting seasons, which help regulate the population, as well as hunting tags, which ensure only so many animals are taken legally during that season. To determine how many animals can be hunted, the ecologist will collect data, including doing aerial surveys of animal habitats, and keeping track of how successful hunts are.

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Discussion Comments


Are there any specific websites or organizations that would point someone like me in the right direction for this career field? I'm currently in college and would like to further my knowledge in this career as I am highly interested in it. I'm just unsure about where to go.


Please, I need a grant to enable me start the experimental stage of my Phd in the Dept of Veterinary Surgery and Reproduction, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

I am working on the effect of Trypanosomiasis on the reproductive system of captive grass cutters (Thryonomys swinderianus), a species that is presently under threat because of the way it is being aggressively and indiscriminately hunted. Any ideas, please?


If you want to get a taste of what working with wildlife ecology is, you can usually find volunteering positions at your local environment conservation branch, or in a local park. These positions allow people of all ages to get some insight into what it takes to care for wildlife, and how invasive species can damage a delicate ecosystem.

Often people who work with wildlife ecology on the frontlines are always in need of an extra set of hands. You may be asked to help them clean the park, promote public awareness or rescue animals. There is one thing you can know for sure though, and that is that you are doing something worthwhile.


If you have children that are interested in animals and the environment, bringing them to meet a specialist in wildlife ecology can be a great field trip. Often large parks offer programs where children can learn about wildlife ecology from a professional.

I think learning about the importance of animals, plants and how they interact is important for people of all ages to learn. These interactive sessions usually allow the children to meet one of the local animals, and show them ways they can help the environment.

Furthermore, the parks often sell numerous activity kits and souvenirs, which go to support local wildlife conservation. This is a great investment for your family.


@SkittisH - Watch out when going into this profession -- you might not like it as much as you think you're going to.

Wildlife ecology conservation and management is one of those professions that attract a certain kind of person -- the concerned and soft-hearted kind that loves animals and wants everybody to be happy and nobody to ever get hurt.

Unfortunately, wildlife ecology and management jobs are also the kind that require a certain degree of toughness to operate in. Yes, you're working for a great cause, and yes, it's good to love what you're doing and why, and to love animals. But you can't be so soft-hearted that you can't stomach some of the things you'll see in this job.

Wildlife ecology people deal with animals when there are problems. This means that over the course of your career, you'll probably see animals in pain, sick animals, dying animals, poached animals, illegally sold animals, animals in very inhumane conditions, and animals in places they never should have been, to name a few.

This is literally one of those cases of "it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it" (no sarcasm attached). Love it, but be sure to be tough enough to do it.


Hmm...WiseGEEK talks about one of the duties of wildlife ecology management workers being dealing with threats by invasive species.

I know that humans introducing species to places where they aren't native can be a big problem, and that sometimes those species thrive way too well and start destroying or just plain overpowering the local species and taking over.

Does this mean that relocating or even exterminating the invasive species might be part of your job if you were in this profession? Even though they aren't supposed to be there, it seems a shame to kill animals if they're thriving somewhere. They didn't decide to be there -- some person put them there, and they're just living the best that they can.

Do you think it's wrong to move an invasive species after it as been established in a placed for years or even decades? At that point it's practically part of the area. Perhaps we should stop trying to undo past mistakes and instead focus just on making any more by preventing introducing non native species to any more places.


@ahain - Hey, I think you could find a great job in wildlife ecology, too -- you would just be more on the law enforcement side of things instead of the science and veterinary sides.

I think as far as wildlife jobs go, this would be a really rewarding one to get into. I mean, you get to travel, see and study beautiful and unique animals, reach out to the public, and make a really big difference in the lives of so many living things.

It's not a glamorous job -- I'm sure you would have to deal with your fair share of "roughing it" camping out, you get to dress practically, and you probably won't ever have your name printed really big somewhere with lots of people praising you. You might even be met with opposition by people who think we should all be focused on some other cause that they deem more important, like global warming.

Somebody has to do this, though, or pretty soon we won't have any of these beautiful species left in the world. If animals are your passion and you don't mind getting your hands dirty to help them, get out there.


@SkittisH - You've got more faith in human nature than I do. Unfortunately, some people do damage animals' habitats and population on purpose. They don't do it because they want the animals to go extinct, but because killing or capturing and selling something rare means you'll get more money in return for your actions, even if you have to find your buyers on the black market.

Poaching and illegal sale of rare animals is a very real problem. I know wildlife ecology jobs deal more with making sure the animals' environments are viable to support their populations and let them keep living as they're used to, but having big groups of their populations disappear overnight on the illegal animal trading plane can't help the animals maintain a natural lifestyle either.

I think rather than treating the symptoms -- animals disappearing, people being caught once they already have them -- we somehow need to attack the main problem: that anybody will still buy these illegally captured and sold animals. If there isn't any demand for these poor creatures, then nobody will be offering big money for them, so people won't risk all of the consequences to catch and sell them.

That's my two cents. You're getting into a noble field, and it sounds like you've got the right attitude -- you want to help the animals without demonizing the people. You're a person, so obviously we're not all bad, right? Best of luck.


I'm very interested in becoming a wildlife ecology biologist and helping to conserve the habitats of endangered species. I think it's an extremely important issue that people tend to sweep under the carpet.

I'm not one of those "mankind if evil and the impostor" people -- we belong on the planet, too, we're not foreigners here in our home. However, as the most powerful species on earth in terms of our capability to destroy life and land, I think that we need to follow that old saying: "With great power comes great responsibility."

People don't mean to destroy animals' habitats. We do it because day to day life is easy to get caught up in, and when we do that we fail to glance at the bigger picture every now and then and realize what kind of damage it's doing to the other creatures on the earth in order to let us maintain our lifestyles.

I'm going to college and getting a job in this field for the good of everybody -- animals and human beings alike. I want there to be snow leopards and other beautiful animals still around on earth for my grandchildren to be amazed at, just like I am!

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    • Some marine ecologists study coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems.
      By: Richard Carey
      Some marine ecologists study coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems.
    • Wildlife ecology has helped bring back the American alligator.
      By: eastmanphoto
      Wildlife ecology has helped bring back the American alligator.
    • Wildlife ecologists are concerned with habitats as well as animals.
      By: Frank
      Wildlife ecologists are concerned with habitats as well as animals.
    • Endangered species programs have helped with the return of bald eagles.
      By: Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire
      Endangered species programs have helped with the return of bald eagles.
    • Wildlife regulations dictate which animals can be hunted and when.
      By: rodimovpavel
      Wildlife regulations dictate which animals can be hunted and when.