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10 Career paths in conservation and how to get started

Are you thinking about a career in conservation or working with wildlife, but you are not sure where to start? Then this guide is for you. Read on to find out more about different conservation and wildlife jobs, and how to find out which one is right for you.

What is a Conservation Job?

A conservation job can be any job where your work helps with nature conservation, protecting species, and helping with the welfare of wildlife. Conservation careers go beyond careers in wildlife conservation out in the bush. It can include jobs that benefit conservation initiatives, like fundraising, applying for research grants, or even writing about conservation projects.

Types of Conservation Jobs

There are different types of jobs in conservation – and some of them may not involve working outside in nature at all. Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of some possible careers in conservation that you might be interested in.

1. Working for an NGO

When working for a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) you are part of something bigger that is making a very big difference. World-renowned NGOs include World Wildlife Fund (WWF), BirdLife International (or their local partners), or the Earth Island Institute. When working for an NGO, you can either work in a specific department (like communications and marketing, or fundraising), or you can work out in the field raising awareness about your cause, or doing scientific research.

2. Working in the Field

Some people just want to get out there and get their hands dirty, and a wildlife conservation job is the ideal position for it. A conservation career in the field can range from working as a game ranger, field guide, or researcher in a nature reserve or wildlife park. You may need special training to fill these roles, like knowledge of local animals and plants or a field guide certification. When working in the field you will also be exposed to people working in other conservation jobs, like photographers, vets, or researchers.

3. Conservation Filmmaker and Photographer

The availability of affordable camera equipment has made it possible for many people to practice wildlife photography or filmography. Your images will not only be beautiful, but they will also raise awareness of endangered species and habitats, and the plight of wildlife across the world.

4. Staying in Academics

Some people who study wildlife management or conservation degrees decide to stay in academics, pursuing a Ph.D. and post-doctorate, or working as a lecturer or professor. Conservation scientists are continuously researching new fields of study. This can include collecting real-world data in the field, doing literature reviews, or working on new scientific studies to publish in a journal.

5. Supporting Conservation Work

Many purists would discount zoos, claiming they are not doing conservation work, as people sometimes struggle to align the conservation of wildlife with animals in captivity. Unfortunately, not many people will have the opportunity to explore the vast savannas of Africa. Zoos play an important part in educating people of all ages on animals and their conservation statuses. Zoos also have a breeding stock of endangered animals. When working for a zoo – whether as an animal handler, vet, or guide – you will be doing your bit to conserve wildlife.

6. Animal Welfare and Wildlife Vet

It is no easy task to qualify as a wildlife vet. It requires many years of study and specialization, even more than to become a doctor for humans. A career as a wildlife vet can be very challenging, yet rewarding. You will explore new habitats and environments, working on a variety of animals as you go. It can also be a frustrating job when you must deal with illegal poaching activities and how it harms the wildlife you care about.

7. Habitat Management

If you follow a career in habitat management, you will be working on the practical side of conservation. Similarly to working as a field guide or game ranger, you are sure to get your hands dirty in this job. Habitats are important for the survival of all species, whether it is grasslands, wetlands, forests, or coastal areas. Managing these habitats through controlling invasive species or re-establishing local species is important to the survival of endemic animals and plants.

8. Ecotourism

If you are a people person, then a career path in ecotourism may be the right choice for you. Ecotourism is all about showing people wildlife and nature. It is most beneficial to the natural world if done correctly and non-invasively (like wildlife safaris). It also assists with the economic development of the region as it offers local jobs and draws tourists.

9. Mapping and GIS

Global Positioning Systems (GIS) technology is becoming increasingly important in conservation, and skilled staff is required to make sense of it all. GIS software is used by conservationists to map species distributions, habitat types, or areas of disturbance. If you are someone who enjoys cartography, mapping, and working with technology, then this conservation career might be the right one for you.

10. Policy and Advocacy

Legislation must be in place that protects our wildlife and ecosystems. A career in policy and advocacy may not sound as glamourous as working hands-on with lion cubs, however, it is vital for ongoing conservation efforts. Policy and advocacy professionals play an important role in lobbying for sound regulations and legislation and the enforcement thereof to ensure nature is protected.

How do you know what is right for you?

With so many options in conservation careers or wildlife careers, it can be very hard to decide which one is right for you. You will first have to decide where your passion is. Do you like being out in the sun and nature all day, or would you prefer to sit in an office and work on a computer? Do you like working with people, or are you more introverted? Are you willing to travel across the world to find a job, or do you want to stay local?

Once you have answered these questions, you may be able to narrow it down to the perfect job in conservation that will suit your needs and save the world.

Looking for more great resources to guide your green career search? Check out our Free list of 100 sustainability and green career ideas

Further reading:

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Author: Adri Meyer holds a B.Sc Conservation Ecology from Stellenbosch University and a M.Phil Marine and Environmental Law from the University of Cape Town. She has 2 years working with BirdLife South Africa, a conservation NGO, and 5 years working as an Environmental Assessment Practitioner, conducting Environmental Impact Assessments within the agriculture, housing and waste industry, and acting as an Environmental Control Officer on construction sites. She has 1 year’s experience as a content creator for several sustainability and conservation focused websites. In her free time, she volunteers at the Seabird and Penguin Rehabilitation Center (SAPREC) as well as the local Animal Welfare.

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