What is a Primatologist?

Primatologists work with and/or study non-human primates in different capacities, including from biological, anthropological, psychological, and other perspectives.

What Does a Primatologist Do?

Primatologists perform many different functions, but all in relation to non-human primates. Some Primatologists work in zoos and other domestic environments caring for the animals. Others observe their behaviors and habits on a day-to-day basis in the wild. Observation may be performed to uncover human-like behaviors, explore primate psychology, or study primate culture. Other Primatologists work in laboratories assessing the biological backgrounds of apes and other human-like primates.

Where Does a Primatologist Work?

Primatologists work in various environments depending on their area of focus. Some may spend most of their time working in offices or lab environments. Others may find themselves cleaning and caring for animals in a zoo or other artificial setting. Some Primatologists will work in the field, traveling to various places where their primate of interest can be studied in the wild.

Primatologists working in the field can expect to be exposed to adverse weather conditions and harsh geological environments. They may also be required to perform physically demanding work. In addition, Primatologists working in the field should be comfortable with spending a great deal of time alone. Primatologists work full-time, though fieldwork may require extensive hours or irregular schedules.

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What Is the Average Primatologist Salary?

Primatologists, who fall under the broader BLS category of zoologists and microbiologists, earned a median salary of $66,350 as of May 2020. The highest paid pros in this area worked for the federal government, earning a median salary of $81,530.*

Primatology Jobs

Primatology is a narrow field of study inside the broader confines of zoology and in some cases, anthropology. The field's applications are diverse - primatology careers are found in academic departments like anatomy, anthropology, biology, medicine, psychology, veterinary sciences as well as working in animal sanctuaries, biomedical research facilities, museums and zoos. While jobs vary significantly through the applications, most primatologists are familiar with the following scope of work:

  • Review research and journal literature in order to stay current on developments in the field
  • Revise curriculum and advise students if the position is an academic one
  • Supervise interns and junior team members at field sites, zoos, and sanctuaries
  • Perform diagnostic testing, including necropsy, biopsy, cytology, and clinical pathology
  • Develop new techniques to meet the needs of clinical veterinarians and researchers
  • Interdisciplinary teams may apply research for such fields as primate/human vaccine development, reproductive health, transgenic animal models, models of aging, models of neurodegenerative diseases and neurophysiology, and stem cell biology
  • Contribute to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) nonhuman primate tissue bank
  • Perform and assist with diagnostic and research necropsies
  • Perform post-necropsy tissue processing
  • Transfer tissue samples within timelines
  • Execute quality assurance procedure sin the field and in the lab
  • Supervise and maintain the necropsy suite including ordering equipment and supplies
  • Perform monthly billing and maintenance of lab records
  • Oversee accurate cost estimates for services
  • Train externs, students, graduate students, and technical staff
    Perform diagnostic testing on nonhuman primate blood, feces, urine, and other samples
  • Coordinate with lab manager and staff for sample collection, processing and evaluation
  • Accurately record all data

Second-tier primatologists often have a depth of experience that makes them a natural fit to take on some management responsibilities. Such responsibilities often include:

  • Oversee laboratory quality assurance programs
  • Oversee laboratory supply inventory and budget
  • Oversee transfer and shipping of samples
  • Oversee billing and data entry
  • Manage sample banks
  • Generate reports
  • Assist in grand proposal writing
  • Maintain and improve the integrity, relevance and impact of primate research
  • Ensure that field data are of high quality
  • Liaise with other external and internal staff members on a variety of logistical and research issues
  • Train and supervise local and international assistants, technicians, interns, students and/or volunteers working on the primate projects
  • Provide care, support, and mentorship as needed
    Oversee analysis and reporting of data, and production of outputs
  • Author and co-author publications as the need arises
    Provide monthly updates on progress and developments via written reports and verbal/email communications
    Create and deliver engaging presentations and reports for internal and external stakeholders
  • Assist pathologists and research investigators with protocol development, implementation, and collection procedures for tissues
  • Communicate with investigators and their laboratory staff for scheduling services

What Is the Job Demand for Primatologists?

The job demand for Primatologists is expected to grow 5% within the next 10 years (2020-2030), which is slower than average for all other occupations. Unfortunately, demand for Primatologists and other zoology careers largely depends on the distribution of government funding. However, increasing human population growth and rising interest in environmental safety promises progressive growth in the field.*

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What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Primatologist?

Primatologists require a Bachelor's degree in wildlife biology, zoology, or other related field. However, this is the minimum educational requirement and is largely seen as preparation for more advanced degrees.

Advancement in the field typically requires a Masters or Ph.D. Lab researchers and university professors often have extensive work experience, as well as a Ph.D. Familiarity with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data analysis software is recommended.

Related Degree Options for Primatology

What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Primatologists Have?

Primatologists can browse through these organizations and websites for valuable resources:

  • American Society of Primatologists (ASP) is both an educational and scientific society that aims to promote information about primates around the world. It is encourages current and aspiring Primatologists to learn more about current conversations in the field, as well as current Grant and research opportunities. ASP is a non-profit.
  • The Primate Specialist Group is a collection of conversation scientists and zoologists dedicated to spreading awareness about the endangerment and extinction of primates around the world. They support research, education, and other conservationist programs specific to the field of Primatology.
  • Zoological Association of America (ZAA) is a more general trade organization that provides resources and membership for all kinds of American Zoologists. They spread information about standards of care for animals, as well as different medical and policy information circulating in the industry. It also exists to facilitate cross-sectional communications between different zoological professions.

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for zoologists and wildlife biologists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.