What does an applied ethologist do?

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What is an Applied Ethologist?

Applied ethologists are scientists who utilize principles of animal behavior and ethology – the scientific study of animal behavior – to address practical issues related to animal welfare, management, and conservation. They apply scientific understanding of animal behavior to various contexts, such as agriculture, veterinary medicine, zookeeping, and wildlife conservation, aiming to enhance the wellbeing of animals under human care or in natural environments.

Applied ethologists assess animal behavior, design behavior modification strategies, conduct research to understand behavioral patterns, and provide guidance on best practices for animal care and management, ultimately, striving to promote ethical and humane treatment of animals across different sectors.

What does an Applied Ethologist do?

A young Orangutan swinging on a rope.

Duties and Responsibilities
A day in the life of an applied ethologist may include:

  • Assessing Animal Behavior – Applied ethologists observe and analyze the behavior of animals to understand their needs, preferences, and wellbeing. They may conduct behavioral assessments in various environments, such as farms, zoos, or natural habitats. This can involve recording animal behavior and noting interactions, movement patterns, and any signs of abnormal behavior.
  • Developing Behavior Modification Programs – Applied ethologists design and implement strategies to address behavioral issues in animals, such as aggression, fear, stress, or stereotypic behaviors. These programs aim to improve animal welfare and enhance their quality of life.
  • Conducting Research – Applied ethologists may carry out research projects to investigate specific aspects of animal behavior, such as social interactions, communication, or cognitive abilities. This research contributes to our understanding of animal behavior and informs best practices for their care and management.
  • Providing Recommendations and Guidance – Applied ethologists offer advice and recommendations to individuals, organizations, or industries on best practices and policy for handling and caring for animals. They may provide guidance on housing, enrichment, feeding, and other aspects of animal care to promote their wellbeing.
  • Mitigating Human-Animal Conflicts – Applied ethologists may contribute to the development of strategies to promote human-animal coexistence, especially in areas where human activities intersect with wildlife habitats.
  • Educating Others – Applied ethologists may engage in education and outreach activities to raise awareness about animal behavior, welfare, and conservation. They may conduct workshops, seminars, or public presentations to share their knowledge and promote responsible stewardship of animals.

Types of Applied Ethologists
Now that we have a sense of the potential scope of the applied ethologist’s work, let’s look at some different types of these ethologists, each specializing in different areas of animal behavior and applying their expertise to specific contexts:

  • Farm Animal Ethologists specialize in the behavior and welfare of livestock animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep. They work to improve housing conditions, handling practices, and management strategies on farms to enhance animal welfare and productivity.
  • Zoo Ethologists focus on the behavior and welfare of animals in zoos, aquariums, and wildlife parks. They design enrichment programs, assess exhibit designs, and develop training techniques to promote natural behaviors and improve the wellbeing of captive animals.
  • Wildlife Ethologists study the behavior of wild animals in their natural habitats and apply their knowledge to conservation efforts. They may work with government agencies, conservation organizations, or research institutions to monitor populations, mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, and develop conservation strategies.
  • Companion Animal Ethologists specialize in the behavior and welfare of pets such as dogs, cats, and small mammals. They provide behavior consultation services to pet owners, develop training programs to improve the human-animal bond, and address behavioral issues such as aggression, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors.
  • Conservation Ethologists focus on the behavior and ecology of endangered species and work to conserve their populations and habitats. They may conduct research on species behavior, develop conservation plans, and collaborate with local communities and stakeholders to implement conservation initiatives.
  • Human-Animal Interaction Ethologists have an in-depth understanding of the relationships between humans and animals and how their interactions affect both parties. They may focus on therapy animal programs, animal-assisted interventions, or studying the benefits of pet ownership on human health and wellbeing.

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What is the workplace of an Applied Ethologist like?

Applied ethologists can work for a variety of organizations across different sectors. These are among their most common employers:

  • Academic Institutions – Universities and research institutions often employ applied ethologists as researchers, professors, or postdoctoral fellows. They may conduct research on animal behavior, welfare, and conservation, as well as teach courses in ethology, animal science, or related fields.
  • Government Agencies – Government departments responsible for agriculture, wildlife management, conservation, and animal welfare may employ applied ethologists to conduct research, develop policies, and provide expertise on issues related to animal behavior and welfare.
  • Non-profit Organizations – Animal welfare organizations, conservation groups, and advocacy organizations frequently employ applied ethologists to work on projects related to animal welfare, wildlife conservation, and environmental sustainability.
  • Zoos, Aquariums, and Wildlife Parks – These entities employ applied ethologists to manage animal collections, design enrichment programs, conduct research, and develop conservation initiatives aimed at promoting the wellbeing of captive and wild animals.
  • Farms and Agricultural Companies – Applied ethologists may work for farms, ranches, and agricultural companies to improve animal welfare, enhance productivity, and develop sustainable farming practices.
  • Veterinary Clinics and Animal Behavior Practices – Some applied ethologists work in veterinary clinics or animal behavior practices, providing behavior consultation services to pet owners and addressing behavioral issues in companion animals.
  • Consulting Firms – Consulting firms specializing in animal behavior, welfare, and conservation may employ applied ethologists to provide expertise and guidance to clients in various industries, including agriculture, food production, and environmental management.

The workplace of an applied ethologist can vary depending on their specific role, employer, and area of specialization. These, however, are, some typical workplace environments in the ethology sector:

  • Field Sites – Applied ethologists often spend time conducting fieldwork in various environments, such as farms, natural habitats, or wildlife reserves.
  • Laboratories – Some applied ethologists work in laboratory settings, where they analyze data, conduct experiments, and study animal behavior under controlled conditions.
  • Offices – Applied ethologists may have office-based roles where they conduct data analysis, write reports, and communicate with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders.
  • Teaching Spaces – Applied ethologists who work in academia typically spend time in lecture halls, classrooms, and laboratories.
  • Travel – Depending on their research projects, applied ethologists may have opportunities to travel domestically or internationally to attend conferences and workshops or to visit field sites.

Frequently Asked Questions



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Applied Ethologists are also known as:
Animal Behavior Consultant Behavioral Biologist