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Primatology Careers

1. What is primatology

Primatology is the study of behavior, biology, and anything else related to primates. There are many areas of study within primatology, but most primatologists have advanced training in anthropology, psychology, or biology. Some primatologists have even become household names, like Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.

2. What should you major in?

Conservation, wildlife biology, zoology, psychology, biology, animal behavior, and many other areas of study all contribute to the field of primatology. While you will need an undergraduate degree at minimum, experience in many different aspects of animal research and biology is a must if you want to spend your life working with primates. [I/Liz], for example, studied psychology and anthropology in undergrad, whereas [I/Ellen] studied animal behavior and psychology. We’ve both interned and volunteered in many different areas, including conducting field work in South America and studying primates in zoo-housed settings. 

3. Different areas of interest.

Because the field of primatology is so broad, there are many, many areas of interest. The Fossey Fund does gorilla research across the spectrum, from microbiologists interested in the gorilla gut biome, to behaviorists wondering how silverbacks interact with infants, to the perceptions of local people about gorillas and other native wildlife! 

Different concentrations you can choose to conduct primate research include social behavior, cognition, evolution, physiology, sexual behavior, and more!

4. Volunteer and Intern!

Since the primatology field is so competitive, volunteering and interning is almost always a must if you want to research or otherwise work with wild animals. If you’re interested in wildlife biology or conservation, volunteering for a local conservation organization is a great way to gain important experience. For those of you interested in behavioral research, interning or volunteering at a reputable zoo or similar well-regarded facility will help immensely. If you’d like to go on to do field work with wild animals in their native habitat, like studying gorillas in Rwanda, you should apply for field schools or internships that will introduce you to studying primates in the wild. 

5. Here are some examples of what you can do with your degree!

  • Research in the field or manage a field site
  • Start or manage a conservation fund
  • Conduct conservation research
  • Research behavior
  • Research diseases impacting primates
  • Specialize in reducing and managing human-animal conflict
  • Research the evolutionary origin of primates or behaviors
  • Educate others about these incredible animals!