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What Is the Highest Salary a Professional Zoologist Can Make?

by Forest Time

Zoologists, sometimes called wildlife biologists, study the behavior and physical characteristics of animals. Many focus on the relationship between human activities and the impact of these activities on specific animal populations. The expected salary for zoologists and wildlife biologists varies depending on what type of employer they work for and the geographical area in which they work.

National Average and Pay Scale

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, zoologists earned an average annual salary of $62,500 in 2012, and an hourly average wage of $30.05. However, it is possible to earn significantly more than this as a zoologist. For example, the highest-paid 25 percent of zoologists made at least $35.10 per hour and $73,010 per year, while the highest-paid 10 percent of zoologists made $45.88 or more an hour and $95,430 or more a year.

Highest-Paying Employers

Zoos, state and local agencies and colleges and universities all offer positions for zoologists. Unfortunately, these employers tend to pay below the national average for this occupation -- typically between $52,000 and $62,000 a year, on average. Aspiring zoologists seeking the highest possible salary will want to pursue a federal position. Many federal agencies hire zoologists and wildlife biologists; examples include the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As of 2012, zoologists employed by the federal government reported an average pay of $78,540 a year.

Location, Location, Location

Choosing where to settle is another factor that can impact the potential salary of a zoologist. Zoologists in most of the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest earned at or below the national salary, and even the highest-paying state in the West, California, paid just $4,000 above the national average per year. The highest-paid zoologists in the nation lived and worked in the Northeast. For example, the District of Columbia reported the highest average salary for this occupation -- $102,980 -- mostly because this is where the high-paying federal jobs are located. But surrounding states also reported high average salaries. For example, zoologists in Maryland averaged $97,870 per year, those in Connecticut $88,550, and those in Rhode Island $83,680.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a projected 1,500 jobs for zoologists and wildlife biologists will be created between 2010 and 2020. If the employment breakdown measured in 2010 holds true throughout the decade, about one quarter of these jobs -- 375 -- will be at federal agencies. Many federal jobs in zoology involve conducting independent research. Aspiring zoologists can improve their chances of being hired by a federal agency by pursuing an internship while in school and by pursuing either a master's degree or Ph.D.