MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: I have a question about working with Wolves?

Date: Wed Jan 15 07:02:02 2003
Posted By: Janet Hoff, Staff, Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine, University of Michigan
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1042240988.Zo

Hi Tiffany,

Thank you for the question.

I am a veterinary technician. I worked in small animal practice for ten years. I now work in medical research. Since I am not a zoologist, and wasn’t really sure myself what it meant to be a zoologist, I e-mailed a group of laboratory animal technicians. Many responded with some great advice for you. I copied and pasted each of their replies in this message. I hope you find it helpful. I wish you the best of luck!

I would suggest to this high schooler to first decide what it is that they want to do with wolves whether it be direct physiology, population dynamics, or instinct development or any one of about a million other facets of a wolves life. If they want to study population dynamics with in the species, look for programs/books on Ecology. If they want to look at interactions with other species, look for a comparative zoology program, so on and so forth. There are a number of conservationist groups (Isaac Walton League for example) that sponsors programs for students to participate in conservation project, in various environments throughout the country. If this student were to make contact with a group like this, I am sure that could get them pointed in the right direction.

Victor A. Willingham, BA, RLAT (Registered Laboratory Animal Technician) BioReliance Corporation

Yes, this person can work with wolves and be a zoologist. You can also work with wolves and not be a zoologist depending on what you're doing with the wolves. A former co-worker of mine did his masters on wolves in the wild. Also there are wolf recovery programs that use people as caretakers and others as speakers to educate the public. And I'm sure the zoo systems use zoologists as the caretakers for the wolves in their care. Studies with wolves vary from the social aspects to what they eat to how far they travel. So their are lots of areas under which wolves could be studied.


I cannot directly answer your question but I did hear a speaker at the District 8 branch meeting in Big Sky, MT. Dr. Gale Ford is the director at the Grizzly Discover Center in West Yellowstone, MT. In her presentation she spoke about the wolves that they have at the center. Maybe you could contact the discovery center and speak with someone there.

Hope this helps :)

Holly Sexton Celera Genomics South San Francisco, CA

State University of New York: College at Oswego has a Zoology degree. The student might find it helpful to speak to them. There is also a program in Florida that is linked to Oswego specifically for training as a Zoologist (working in Zoos). My counselor at Oswego was Dr. Emily Oakes. I know she knows about the program but it has been too many years for my memory. They have a special track for classes to connect to that program. I started out in it but switched to try for Vet school. Either way, the school should be able to give the student some specifics and additional contact information. I'm sure other schools are linked as well but that is the only one I am familiar with

Sylvia Facility Manager

University of Wisconsin-Madison offers programs in Conservation Biology, Wildlife Management, Wildlife Ecology, and Zoology (with organismal, cellular, and molecular options). UW-Stevens Point also has good programs in those fields. A double major might be appropriate, but he/she could probably call any major university and talk to someone in their Wildlife/Zoology department and see if they might have the focus he/she wants. Really, the possibilities are endless to make dreams come true, no matter what major is chosen. :)

Many schools offer degrees in a related field called Wildlife Ecology or Wildlife Management. I graduated with a Wildlife management degree from Humboldt State University in Northern California and have had the opportunity to work with Bears, ducks, geese, Owls, and lots of other things. Stevens Point Wisconsin (UW Stevens Point) offers a great curriculum of wildlife classes. University of Wis. Madison is the first school to offer Wildlife Ecology classes, and has a wide range of research orientated course work. I would imagine that U of M has similar courses. As far as wolves go, staying in the upper Midwest or Montana would give the best opportunity to work with wolves. Hope this helps.

Pete Vertz Animal Care Supervisor USGS-National Wildlife Health Center 6006 Schroeder Road Madison, Wi. 53711

I suggest that your student study Wildlife Biology. I expect that WIldlife Biology will get closer to the study of wolves than other Zoology courses. Dorcas

If she wants to work with wolves, you may suggest to her that she major in Wildlife Management or Wildlife Science. Michigan State has a Forestry and Natural Resources program, as well as Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. There is a wolf research station near Purdue (in Battle Creek or Battle Ground, it's Battle something. . .) called Wolf Park. She may want to contact them. I'll see if I can find more information on it.

The website for Wolf Park is

She could also major in psychology with a focus on animal behavior.

Wendy Keeling Laboratory Animal Technician Butler University

I do not know if this will help, but wolf sanctuaries may have more information for your student. I know there is a wolf sanctuary in Minnesota and I think there is one in Missouri. I am a Veterinary Technician and one of my internship options was the wolf sanctuary in Minnesota. That was 5 years ago, so I do not know if they still take interns. I no longer have there phone # or address, check the web. Good Luck, Jen Meyer RVT LATG

Well, I'm not a zoologist but I have worked in zoos and am a wolf enthusiast. I would suggest this link They have internships, trips, wolf cams and telemetry, as well as scientists on their advisory board. They could probably answer this person's question.

There are also wolf sanctuaries around the country that have volunteer opportunities. They could just do a web search for a sanctuary in their area. Hope this helps.

Nancy Dziura ARF Supervisor VA Medical Center Bedford, MA

My BS is in Zoology and I think it was great preparation for an advanced degree in some more specialized field of biology. I went on for an MS in Avian Sciences. Having a diverse background and then focusing would be my choice.

I think your young chap would do fine to obtain that degree or seek a program that has wildlife studies or wildlife management in its curriculum. There was such a major at UC Davis where I went to school (lo, many years ago). I suspect schools in Idaho and Montana would be better for such choices in these days.

During the district 8 meeting last year we went to a place dedicated to preserving, research, and re-introducing the grey wolf in the northwest. Here is their web site. Perhaps it will be useful to this individual. A summer family trip might be in order. It's right next door to Yellowstone.

There are wolves at many zoos. So, another thought is that s/he could volunteer at one. St. Louis Zoo comes to mind.


It's great you are starting on your dream now instead of waiting until you are a junior or senior. There are a million ways to achieve your goal. My suggestion, start now! Volunteer - this looks amazing on your resume, even if its not with the animal you want to focus on after college (wildlife rehabilitation centers, zoos, and the DNR often offer such opportunities). Humane societies are great too, and anywhere you can get experience with dogs and their behavior. If you hope to work for the DNR, there are majors focusing on Fish and Wildlife that are a good step forward. If a zoo setting is more your style, then go to a college that offers an actual Zoology program. Often, a bachelors in Biology will due as well, but make sure you get a Bachelors of Science in Biology versus a Bachelors of Arts in Biology - this makes a huge difference to many employers. Once in college, there are many chances to complete internships that are directly related to wolves, however, you may need to find these opportunities yourself; just get on the internet and type in "wolf rehabilitation centers, wolf sanctuaries", or something such as this. From here you can contact the facility and get all the information you need. Hope this helps and best of luck. Jobs such as these are very competitve, so the more experience you have, the better. But also remember, you have to start somewhere.


Jody L. Lutterman

Pharmacology, Drug Discovery

Zoolologist are very active in working with wolves. To get more information regarding professional activities with wolves I would suggest contacting the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services. They are active with most of the wolf relocation activities in the US. You may also want to inquire in states where there are wolves or where wolves have been relocated such as Michigan, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, etc. Each state should have a Department of Fish and Game, or Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game does a lot of work with wolves. Once educated, you may also consider doing studies on wolves independently and apply for grants or arrange for other types of financial support (National Geographic? World Wildlife Fund? etc.?) I would suggest trying to find out who is currently studying wolves and contact them for suggestions. Check out websites under wolf relocation (the websites are not always friendly to the wolf) for ideas. Watch PBS and Discovery channel programs on wolves and other wildlife and take notes on who is doing what and who sponsors them such as Universities, and other organizations. Write to colleges and Universities that have good Zoology and Wildlife programs.

Good luck.

Dr. Marc Bekoff at the University of Colorado at Boulder in Colorado can probably assist you with your goal. Dr. Bekoff studies canids (including wolves) and should be able to offer you insight on courses you'll need and potential colleges and contacts. I don't have his contact info here but if you go to the University of Colorado at Boulder college web site you should be able to find his information in a directory. He is with the Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology Department (EPOB for short).

Good luck, Lorraine

Dear Freshman,

First I want to say that I think it's great you are exploring careers options at such an early age. It will help you when you begin college if you know exactly what you want to do for a career. But just remember that it is ok to change your mind on careers! I am a recent graduate from Michigan State University and even though I am employed full time, I know I want to get further education and move on! Anyhow, I have compiled a list of web sites for you to research. It would be a good idea to volunteer at zoos to make sure that you would like to work with wolves. A bachelor's degree in zoology is a very broad degree and there are a few specializations within the program at MSU. I am not sure if you want to be a zoo keeper or a researcher, but either way there are opportunities to work with wolves. Zoo keepers generally care for a lot of animals at once, but that could be an option for you. Conservation of wolves is very important right now - for many kinds of wolves, such as the Gray Wolf in the Midwest/Canada region, Red Wolf, Mexican Wolf, and Maned Wolf. Conservation and behavior studies are usually for graduate students, but would give you more options for the future if you had that much more education. I wish you good luck in your studies! And remember never to give up! Please feel free to email me if you have any further questions that I may help you with.

Web sites to check out and people to email:

1) American Zoo and Aquarium Assoc. Click on conservation science and SSP (Species Survival Program) list. Under wolves, there are 3 kinds in a SSP. They list the main institution and the contact person. Some list a web site. I suggest doing a search for the institution and e-mailing their contact person for more info!

2) Michigan State University undergraduate programs:

a) Zoology Click on Research and then faculty interests. This will give you an idea of what people are studying. I don't know what state you are from, but there are many colleges out there with great zoology, etc. programs! Do a search on

b) Fisheries and Wildlife Check out the faculty sections, and email professors researching wildlife to get more info. Also check out the Links section - there are a lot of government web sites to check out. I don't know how helpful they will be though. , , , ,

c) Behavior Check out the faculty too!

3) Dept. of Natural Resources: Click on the wildlife section.


5) International Wolf Center: Check out the staff section under "About Us" or "Contact Us" for further info. Also look at the "experience" section.

a) Red Wolf Recovery: Email the contact person for more info.

6) Check out your local zoos and volunteer - especially if they have wolves!

a) If you live in Michigan, then Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek has some great opportunities for teens. Click on "programs" and there are 3 that should be of interest to you: Exploring careers in science, Zoologist in Training, and Junior zoo keepers.

Also check out "press box" and the Mexican Wolves. Email the general curator.

b) Potter Park Zoo in Lansing:

c) Detroit Zoo in Detroit:

Good Luck!


Kate Ashley Cherry, B.S., RALAT Animal Caretaker III University Research Containment Facility

College Of Veterinary Medicine - Michigan State University G-100 VMC East Lansing, MI 48824

Suggest to the student to contact the Wolf Park in Battle Ground, IN. Dr. Erich Klinghammer founded the park and it has a lot of worthwhile information that should help him. or #765-567-2265. Dr. Klinghammer is a behaviorist, but there are zoologist associated with the park.

Have your young friend go to The American Zoo and Aquarium Association's webpage. They have a good section on what it's like to work at a zoo, and summaries of the jobs available. The link below will get you there: e/#car

They also have a job listing page, which'll give him/her a good idea of the job market.

For the immediate future, I suggest volunteering at the local zoo. Most of them have docent programs that'll give some neat behind the scenes opportunities.

Hope this helps, John (the former zookeeper)

John Duktig Norcross Facility Manager AtheroGenics, Inc. 150 Technology Parkway Norcross GA 30092-2911

The advise I can give you is based on my own inclinations when I was your age. I also had a strong interest in wolves, but was also interested in wildlife in general, ecology, etc. There are many issues that you need to sort out when deciding on a career, and how to incorporate a "passion area" into your adult life.

If you are okay with the idea of doing research, degrees in zoology, biology, wildlife management or animal science will help you find research assistant positions. Master or doctoral degrees in these fields will allow you to explore an area of specific focus (like wolf behavior, or something).

If you want to be more involved with the medical well-being of animals, you would look into the field of veterinarians or veterinary technicians. These veterinary trained individuals can not only be involved in research, but those who are specialized in "exotics and wildlife," are sought after to work in zoos and animal parks.

One thing to remember, those who are technicians in the various fields are the ones who will have more "hands-ons" time with the animals in most cases; those with the "Doctor of.." titles will spend time developing projects, finding funding sources and writing publications.

The other option is to keep your passion alive by supporting the cause of wolves on a volunteer basis, while supporting your self by some other means. There are some groups around the country who specifically lobby for the cause of the wolf, they are usually eager to get volunteer, or financial, help. I would encourage you to look at these groups very carefully. There are some good, well structured, balanced groups out there, but others that are better not to be associated with. The key is do they try to strictly play on your emotion and shock/sensationalism or are they giving you facts, allowing you to make your own educated decisions on the subject? Educate yourself on not only the species, but BOTH sides of the issues that surround them. Make rational, not emotional decisions on where to be involved with these issues! This sort of experience will allow you to potentially be able to do some public outreach programs to educate others about these animals.

I have been quite involved with job shadowing programs that local schools have. I would suggest you to look into the possibility of shadowing individuals in various science related fields and see what type of work they do. Most of the time you need to spend more than a few hours on one day to get a good sense of their world. This should help you make better decisions on your many choices. If you find someone you respect who is in a field that interests you, talk with them at length about their experiences and education. Find out what they love about their work, and what challenges they face.

Personally I did not know a lot about options at the time and had little help in choosing a career path. I was drawn to the field of study " Wildlife Biology." ( I did not really having any idea what one would be actually doing with that degree - I was unaware of formal research programs.) Fortunately, between my parent's lack of support and a discussion with the chief wildlife biologist of our area at the time, I changed my mind. The reality is that wanting to only work with one species of animal is fairly unrealistic. One day, once you have a lot of education and experience under your belt, you might be able to find a job, or funding to support that work. A big question is what do you want to do with the species? How do you feel about research? How do you feel about working long hours (weeks/months) alone in the wilderness ( Right now you may think "no problem, sounds great!" , but when you are a bit older, is that what fits into your overall goals or physical abilities/limitations?) The wildlife biologist I spoke with also painted a grim picture of reality to me. He had once had big dreams of being involved with wildlife. The reality again was that the field work is done by the "greenhorns." They also did not get paid very well. If you wanted to be able to support a family, you worked towards promotions (higher degrees) and wound up with more time behind a desk, and little or no time out in the field. On top of that, finding a job is tough, and very competitive. Not to sound like a kill joy, but that is why I said that trying to only work with wolves, from the starting gate, is not real realistic. Initially you need to learn about animals in general.

Personally, I wound up a veterinary technician- with the idea of working at a zoo. I never have worked at a zoo since graduating from college 20 years ago. But, I enjoy the working knowledge that I have of wildlife. It helps me fully enjoy the wildlife around me, I have used it in my jobs, and in my art projects.

I wish you success in your quest!

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