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Interested in building a career in wildlife conservation and animal welfare? With so many options to explore and organizations to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. We compiled the questions we get asked the most and asked our experts for advice.
Gaining experience is key, and for many, this starts with volunteering. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do. In fact, it’s often better to have a generalization of what you like—that way, you remain open to opportunities and don’t limit yourself. Think about the possible types of work that you’re interested in and look for organizations that match. For example, if you think you may want to be a veterinarian or work in wildlife rehabilitation, explore opportunities to volunteer at a local vet office or wildlife center. If you love to work outdoors and are interested in a future that allows you to do field research, look for volunteer opportunities with a local conservancy. Any experience that you gain is beneficial and will help you not only build your resume, but also gain critical skills.
If you aspire to work with animals directly, whether through field research or animal care, you’ll want to major in a scientific study that will prepare you with the appropriate skills. This includes majors like zoology, biology, environmental science, or forestry.
If you’re interested in a career that supports animal causes, but you didn’t major in the sciences, don’t worry! Your skillset can still help determine a well-suited path. For example, if you didn’t study environmental science, but majored in French, those language skills could set you apart in a government relations or policy position. If you love photography or filmmaking, you could join a communications department at an NGO or become a contractor, capturing content for different organizations. If your background is in accounting, keep an eye out for openings in the finance or legal department.
Wildlife rehabilitators and rescuers need a strong understanding of animal biology. In most cases, jobs like these require a degree related to biology, animal husbandry, or ecology. But a college degree isn’t the only thing that matters—experience is just as important. Remember when we talked about the importance of volunteering? Hands-on experience with animals is key for building a career in this field.
If you’re a college student interested in building a career with animals, summer or semester internships are the best way to gain experience. Not only will you develop a unique set of skills, but you’ll also gain a better understanding of what it’s really like to work in that career sector. Another bonus–the things you liked, and didn’t like, about your internship will help you navigate future career possibilities.
Everyone has a different story for how they got to where they are today. Here are a few members of the IFAW team as they share their journeys to finding careers working to help animals across the globe
My path to this job was not linear at all. After I graduated from college with a double major in Political Science and International Studies, I took an internship at INTERPOL in France. Six months after my internship, I got contracted with its Environmental Crimes Unit and joined the anti-elephant and rhino poaching team. Prior to starting this job, I was unaware of environmental crimes but became passionate about the subject right away.
This lead me to pursue a Master’s in International Affairs with a focus on International Security and U.S. Diplomacy. After I graduated, I took a job in the private sector, which I really disliked. Thankfully after a year, I had the tremendous opportunity to do a three-month consultancy with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris working on a research project that focused on the role of corruption and illegal wildlife trade. It was then that I knew that I could dedicate my life to saving endangered wildlife.
Soon after that consultancy, I was hired by IFAW. After all of this zigzagging, I feel extremely lucky to have encountered the opportunity to work in a field that my heart is fully set on.
I have been interested in animals since I was young. When I work with animals, I can feel the peace and simplicity that comes from their heart and this feeling always makes me fall in love with the animal involuntarily.
After graduating from college, a friend of mine found a public education activity at BRRC and invited me to join. I was lucky to become a volunteer at BRRC and a few years later, I was hired as a raptor rehabilitator. Transitioning from a volunteer to a rehabilitator required a lot of hard work and learning from mentors in the field.
A word of advice for anyone pursuing a career in animal rehabilitation—it's important to remember that the ultimate goal is to let wildlife be wildlife. You need to understand the animals’ habits, learn rescue related skills, reasonably arrange cages and meals, etc. It’s important to stay rational while loving them and remember that they belong in the wild.
Though I graduated first in my class at Bindura University in Zimbabwe majoring in Wildlife & Rangeland Management, there were no entry point to conservation jobs waiting for me after graduation due to Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties. I enrolled for a field guides course and had to knock on many doors, until I was taken in by one of largest tour operators in the country.
Attracted by the associated financial gains, I soon joined a graduate traineeship program offered by Zimbabwe’s largest platinum mine. I woke up one day six years later, having one of those defining moments where you seriously self-reflect. At that moment I realized that mining was not what I wanted to do at all. What I really wanted to achieve in life had never changed: I wanted to work in biodiversity conservation and make a purposeful and impactful contribution to the world. I had a desire to see community livelihoods and human rights safeguarded on the continent I love so dearly.
Through the Oxford – Keith Lloyd Scholarship (offered to only one Southern African applicant each year), Linacre College became my home and it put me back on track and into mainstream conservation. A few internships, research assistantships, and even a brief consultancy stint later, I joined IFAW as Program Officer for its global Landscape Conservation Program.
At the end of the day, I have learnt to trust the processes of life. The skills and experience gained from my background have been instrumental in shaping where I am today. Key to this is that no matter what life throws at you, tenacity is important if you want to make it! In a world where so many alternatives to your dream can present themselves, choose to do what you love, no matter how long it might take or how hard the journey may be. Hang in there and knock on every door until an opportunity presents itself.