CAREER GUIDES

Here's how being a herpetologist is a great career choice for animal lovers

Herpetologists are zoologists who specialize in the study of reptiles and amphibians

Image: 123RF/Zhanna Tretiakova.

Herpetology can be split into two broad categories:

  • Basic herpetology: the study of reptiles and amphibians for its own sake
  • Applied herpetology: the information gained in basic herpetology, applied to a particular situation

Basic herpetologists study the origin of these animals, their interrelationships with other species, how they are affected by the environment, their behaviour, growth and development, genetics and distribution.

They sometimes also work in museums as taxonomists where they are responsible for naming and classifying species.

Applied herpetologists work as curators of reptile parks or in the reptile sections in zoos, and in other positions managing the breeding of reptiles and amphibians.

This work may also entail working in positions which require educating the public with regard to these species. As this is a highly specialised field, the advice of herpetologists is often sought by the media or by medical teams in the treatment of snakebite victims.

This field does offer some entrepreneurial possibilities with regard to writing articles and appearing on nature conservation programmes on television, but it is unlikely that this would be a full-time option.

Personal requirements

  • Love wild animals, especially reptiles and amphibians
  • Concerned about conservation
  • Patient and responsible
  • Committed to educating the public about these species
  • Willing to work long and unusual hours
  • Obtain the highest qualification as competition in this field is intense.

Watch the video to learn more:

How to enter

School subjects

Compulsory school subjects: Mathematics and Physical Science.

Recommended subjects: Life Sciences but each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to study

Degree: BSc (Zoology) - all universities, followed by BSc Honours (Herpetology).

Post-graduate studies are essential for basic herpetology and senior positions in applied herpetology.

Diploma: N.Dip and N.H.Dip: Nature Conservation, e.g. CPUT, TUT, NMMU, UNISA.

Diplomas will only qualify you for assistant positions in zoos and reptile parks, most of which provide in-service training for university of technology graduates.

A BTech degree in Nature Conservation could lead to better positions

Employment

  • Reptile parks and crocodile farms
  • Zoos
  • National Parks Board
  • Museums
  • Universities and universities of technology
  • Manufacturers of snakebite serum
  • Self-employment, can open a reptile park, zoo or crocodile farm but all these ventures require considerable start-up capital.

Getting started

  • Volunteer at a reptile and amphibian park to do part-time or voluntary work
  • Develop your biological skills and knowledge
  • Speak to herpetologists about this type of career and ask permission to observe them at work 
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