Requirements to Be a Primatologist

by Bronwyn Timmons

Primatologists are professionals who study non-human primates, such as gorillas and chimpanzees. Primatology is a diverse field, and anthropologists, biologists and psychologists may pursue careers in the field. Some primatologists work in academia and research, while others work directly with primates, studying their behavior in the wild. Because primatologists come from diverse backgrounds, there are no set requirements for getting started, and an aspiring primatologist's educational path is based on his specific career goals.

Skills and Traits

Aspiring primatologists need keen observation and research skills, as well as analytical skills and problem solving skills. Primatologists who want to work as professors or in similar academic positions need strong written and verbal communication skills. Above all, individuals interested in this career must have a passion for learning about and conserving non-human primates.

Education and Experience

Primatologists come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds. Commonly, they study biology, anthropology, animal science, veterinary medicine, conservation biology or ecology, with an emphasis in primatology. Primatology programs are available at the graduate level and provide students with a strong foundation of knowledge in primate genetics, anatomy, behavior and evolution. Primatology students should also take courses in statistics, computers, communication and foreign language. The National Primate Research Center recommends that aspiring primatologists supplement their education with volunteer and internship opportunities, as volunteering or interning provides hands-on experience and may appeal to potential employers. The National Primate Research Center offers on their website a list of volunteer and internship opportunities working with primates.

Applying for the Job

Primatologists can find employment through colleges and universities, as well as zoos, research facilities, primate-related publications. Job requirements vary significantly within the field. For example, a primate zoologist may find work with a bachelor's degree, while academic primatologists need a doctorate. The National Primate Research Center recommends that aspiring primatologists be patient while applying for jobs, as it can take a while for filled positions to open up.

Career Outlook

According to the National Primate Research Center, primatology is a highly competitive field with more candidates than there are available jobs. It's impossible to determine the average salary for professionals in this field, as primatologists work many different jobs with salaries that vary widely. In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that wildlife biologists had a mean annual salary of $62,000, so biological primatologists might expect to earn around the same. That same year, the bureau reported that veterinatians earned $93,000 on average, so that could be a realistic salary expectation for veterinary primatologists.

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