MSc in Wild Animal Biology

Wild animal health has become increasingly popular among non-veterinarians with an undergraduate degree in zoology and biology. Recognising this, the Zoological Society of London, together with the Royal Veterinary College, has developed a unique course aimed at non-veterinary biological science graduates and leading to the MSc in Wild Animal Biology.

The course will provide you with practical exposure to wild animal species and an understanding of their health and welfare, as well as provide training in research methods relevant to the study of wildlife. You will benefit from working and studying alongside veterinary graduates taking the MSc in Wild Animal Health as well as learning from internationally renowned experts in their field.    Galapagos tortoise at ZSL London Zoo

 

Course Content

This specialist Masters course is completed over one-year full-time study, commencing in the Autumn. The bulk of teaching takes place at The Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, with time also spent at Whipsnade Zoo and Royal Veterinary College, Camden and Hawkshead Campuses. Both Certificate and Diploma levels of study are available.  The course provides participants with:

  • A critical awareness of current problems in wildlife diseases with implications for wildlife conservation and welfare
  • A new insight into interventions for the health management of captive and free-living wild animals
  • A systematic understanding of the biological principles underpinning wild animal conservation and management, and the epidemiology, diagnosis and  control of wildlife disease
  • Basic competence in veterinary techniques and preventative medicine for wild animals
  • A conceptual and practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create knowledge in the field of wild animal health
  • A comprehensive understanding of scientific skills, including a critical review of the scientific literature, and design and analysis of laboratory or field studies.

The course is delivered through two terms of lectures, seminars, tutorials and problem-based learning, with modular examinations, followed by a research project over the summer months (May-August), prior to final assessment. Teaching covers taxa e.g. mammals, reptiles, birds and the disciplines that influence these taxa, such as epidemiology, infectious diseases, conservation and management. Follow the links below for more information on:

Course Objectives:

A graduate of the Certificate in Wild Animal Biology must demonstrate:

  • A conceptual understanding of population dynamics, threats to wildlife populations and how resources can be allocated for wildlife conservation
  • A critical understanding of epidemiology and the impact of disease on wild animal populations
  • The ability to evaluate interventions for the management of captive and free-living wild animals including their ethics
  • A systematic understanding of the biological principles underpinning wild animal management, and the husbandry, care and welfare of wild animals

A graduate of the Diploma in Wild Animal Biology must demonstrate (in addition to the achievements of the PG Certificate):

  • A critical awareness of methods to detect disease, disease surveillance systems and the effects of emerging diseases on captive and free-living wild animal health
  • Conceptual and practical understanding of the diagnosis, management (WAB), investigation (pathology) and control of disease in captive and free-living wild animal populations
  • Acomprehensive insight into the measurement of ecosystem health
  • A creative approach to the evaluation of the health, welfare and reproduction of captive and free-living wild animals

A graduate of the Master of Science in Wild Animal Biology must demonstrate (in addition to the achievements of the PG Certificate and Diploma):

  • A comprehensive understanding of research and inquiry including (i) critical appraisal of the literature, (ii) scientific writing and (iii) scientific presentation
  • The ability to design and analyse hypothesis-driven laboratory and/or field studies

Alternative Routes

If you are an undergraduate applicant but interested in this degree then you may be interested in the MSci Wild Animal Biology, an undergraduate integrated Masters degree where your first two years are spent at the Royal Veterinary College. Here you will be exposed to fields of research in Comparative Physiology and Medicine, Livestock Production and Health and Animal Welfare Science and Ethics, with at least 18 weeks of practical research experience available and an oppertunity to carry out your own research prjects during the third and fourth years of study.

Academic Staff

Course Directors:

  • Dr Tony Sainsbury, Institute of Zoology

Tony Sainsbury is the course director based at the Institute of Zoology. He is a Senior Lecturer in Wild Animal Health. Tony’s interests lie in the epidemiology of infectious diseases and the surveillance of diseases in wild animal populations. He is a European Recognised Specialist in Zoological Medicine (Wildlife Population Health).

  • Dr Stuart Patterson, Royal Veterinary College

Stuart Patterson is a lecturer in wild animal health and is an RVC- based course director for the Wild Animal Biology and Health courses. He is a graduated with a Master of Veterinary Science in Veterinary Conservation Medicine from the University of Edinburgh and studied his PhD in Veterinary Epidemiology at The Royal Veterinary College.

  • Dr Michael Waters, Royal Veterinary College

Mike Waters is a lecturer in Clinical Pathology and is the RVC-based course director for this MSc course. He graduated from Sydney University and holds an MSc in Wild Animal Health from the University of London

Entry Requirements:

Applicants must have (or expect to receive) a university first or second class honours degree in Biology, Zoology, Animal Biology or the veterinary sciences.

We are particularly keen to see evidence of relevant work experience in a zoo, wild animal hospital or in wild animal research.

English Requirements:

See here: MSc Wild Animal Biology - English Requirements

Fees and Financial Support:

See here: MSc Wild Animal Biology - Fee Support

How do I apply?

See here: MSc Wild Animal Biology - How Do I Apply?

Or contact:

The Graduate School
The Royal Veterinary College
Royal College Street
London NW1 0TU
United Kingdom

Email : researchdegrees@rvc.ac.uk
Tel : +44 (0) 20 7468 5134
 

The MSc in Wild Animal Biology is completed over one- year full-time study, commencing in the autumn. It is taught jointly by the RVC and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) ann consists of three levels.

  • Postgraduate Certificate
  • Postgraduate Diploma 
  • Master of Science Degree

  All three levels start at the same time, towards the end of September each year. The Certificate is taught between September and February, the Diploma between February and May.  The MSc also includes the research project which is undertaken during the summer months, May-August, finishing with a student conference and oral examination in mid-September. None of the levels are available as part-time or distance-learning courses.  

 

 A student of the Wild Animal Biology Master course holding an bald eagle

 

Certificate in Wild Animal Biology

  • Introductory week
    You will be introduced to the course objectives, the mission of the partner organisations running the course, and the services you can receive at the ZSL and the RVC.
  • Conservation Biology Module
    You will develop a conceptual understanding of which species and populations are vulnerable to extinction, how we can monitor their population dynamics and how resources to conserve species can be allocated most successfully using a scientific approach.
     
  • The Impact of Disease on Populations
    The effects of diseases on populations can be complex but even subtle influences can markedly unbalance free-living and captive populations of wild animals. An understanding of these effects requires a critical evaluation of epidemiology and the population biology of infectious agents. Armed with this knowledge you will be equipped to make informed decisions on control methods, where these are considered an ethical approach.
     
  • Health and welfare of captive wild animals
    Considering the enormous diversity of animal species, the management of healthy populations in captivity is an exacting challenge. In this module, you will gain a critical understanding of the principles of animal management and preventive medical approaches to maintaining healthy populations and enhance their welfare.
     
  • Interventions Module
    Where anthropogenic threats endanger free-living populations of animals, people increasingly see a need to intervene for the conservation or welfare of these populations. However, given the need to understand complex ecological systems, the disease risks of manipulating them and the potential stress of intervention methods, such activities require detailed planning, highly skilled input and scientific evaluation to ensure lessons are learned. Using real examples this module will help you to develop a conceptual understanding of intervention methods.

Meerkats at ZSL London Zoo

Diploma in Wild Animal Biology

  • Detection, surveillance and emerging diseases
    Morbidity and mortality in free-living populations of wild animals are difficult to detect and monitor given ecosystem processes and the bias of convenience sampling strategies. In this module, you will learn about the complex methods required to detect and monitor changes in endemic diseases, detect emergent diseases, and interpret the findings in a scientific manner.
     
  • Ecosystem Health Module
    Ecosystem health is a rapidly advancing field of scientific inquiry, which will be studied in the context of the health and sustainable utilization of ocean and freshwater fauna.
     
  • Evaluation of the health and welfare of captive wild animals
    In the Certificate, you will have gained a critical understanding of the management and preventive medical care required to maintain healthy populations. In this module, we investigate the scientific evaluation of wild animal welfare and critically analyse the relationship of health with both reproduction and nutrition.
     
  • Practical Module
    This module covers the complex set of skills required to effectively maintain healthy captive populations of wild animals, and to monitor and intervene in the health of free-living populations. You will gain a conceptual and practical understanding of critical aspects of remote tracking, monitoring of free-living wild animals, pharmacology, anaesthesia, pathology, dentistry, and imaging in wild animals.

Master of Science in Wild Animal Biology

A graduate of the Master of Science in Wild Animal Biology must demonstrate (in addition to the achievements of the PG Certificate and Diploma):

  • A comprehensive understanding of research and inquiry including (i) critical appraisal of the literature, (ii) scientific writing and (iii) scientific presentation
  • The ability to design and analyse hypothesis-driven laboratory and/or field studies

Pygmy hippo swimming in water

Research Planning and Projects

In your research planning module, you will develop the extensive skills required to design and conduct practical research projects, critically appraise and review the literature, deliver effective scientific presentations, and write scientific papers suitable for submission to peer-reviewed journals. This will aid you in the completion of your required research projects, conducted between May and mid-August. For more infomation on research projects:

Assessment

You will be assessed by seven written papers, coursework (scientific review, critical review, scientific presentation, scientific poster and a case report), an individual research project report and an oral examination. All candidates will undertake a full assessment irrespective of their performance in other parts of the course. Project reports are submitted in mid-August and oral examinations are held in mid-September.  See below for more information on the course content:

Each MSc student undertakes an individual research project, between May and the middle of August, producing a grant application and a scientific paper suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. A conference is held in September where each student gives a presentation on their research findings.  Over 100 scientific publications have resulted from research projects undertaken by MSc WAH and WAB students. The project will encompass a practical study on an approved aspect of wild animal biology.


The research project provides the opportunity to study a topic suited to the student’s desired career. A wide variety of topic areas have been chosen including projects in welfare, behaviour, infectious diseases, reproduction, nutrition, rehabilitation and management of both captive and free-living wild animals.  The project may be undertaken at any place approved by the Zoological Society of London/Royal Veterinary College with the guidance of a course supervisor. Examples of previous WAB students research projects are written below.

 

Hannah Klair 

Distance sampling using camera trap data for forest antelope in the Dja Biosphere, Cameroon

Image of a blue duiker (Philantomba monticola)

Distance sampling is used to estimate species abundance, which traditionally requires transects to be walked or driven in the field. However, in an ecosystem such the Dja, the dense rainforest reduces visibility and transects on foot become extremely laborious. This project sought to combine the theory of distance sampling with images collected from camera traps to gain estimates of species abundance for blue duiker (Philantomba monticola). During camera setup, the field team were photographed at set distances away from the camera, which were later used as reference images to categorise images of the species of forest antelope we used as a sample species. This was found to be a viable method for estimates of species abundance and is currently being expanded to analysis on other species.

 

 

Ka Yiu (Michael) Hui

Using Wildlife eco-park to unite tourists and communities for wild elephant conservation: A study from Wild Elephant Valley, Xishuangbanna, China

Student carrying out surveys

Human-wildlife conflict is an increasingly important issue in many conservation circles and the economic and emotional impact these conflicts can cause is still being understood. Michael’s project aimed to study the human-wildlife conflict issues between villagers and Asian Elephants in rural villages in China where severe economic loss caused by elephants resulted in the lack of support for conservation from local communities. Michael travelled to China to evaluate the current situation of human-elephant conflicts and to find out how local people mitigate their loss. He also broached into the potential for eco-tourism in the area as a way to sustainably support villagers and simultaneously protect the elephants in order to achieve human-elephant coexistence.

 

 

 

Rebecca Lewis

The Effects of Visitor Density and Noise on the Behaviour of Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

Kumbuka the Silverback Gorilla at ZSL London Zoo

Rebecca’s project was designed with the aim of quantifying the effects of visitor presence on the gorillas housed at London Zoo to determine if visitors impact welfare. Behavioural observations are important in captive wild animals as they can provide insight into an animal’s mental wellbeing, highlighting potential problems, as certain behaviours or patterns of behaviour can be linked to increased stress. By using a focal scan sampling technique and continuous observations, Rebecca determined activity budgets and frequencies of stress-related behaviours in the gorillas at different categories of visitor density, frequency and noise volume.

 

 

 

 

Surabhi Sharma

What are the risk factors contributing to adverse surgical outcome in zoo birds & reptiles and does surgical outcome varies with the amount of surgical caseload and holding numbers of the zoological collections?

 Zoological collections house a large variety of different species. Hence, veterinary teams have to be well equipped and well versed in a variety of surgical techniques because when surgical intervention is required, it may be in a species of conservation importance, and thus individual of value. Surabhi decided to evaluate the risk factors leading to adverse surgical outcomes in zoo birds and reptiles so that the findings could be used in decision making for future surgical cases. 

Graduates go on to pursue successful careers in wildlife management (government agencies, developing and developed countries), wildlife rehabilitation, wildlife related research (universities, zoological collections) and zoo management. Some continue to study towards a PhD, either with the Institute of Zoology or with another leading scientific research institute.

Sasha DinesSasha Dines 

Sasha Dines graduated from the Wild Animal Biology (WAB) course in 2016 and now works as the head field specialist at Oceans Research, South Africa. Her recent work includes working under Dr. Enrico Gennari on White Shark population dynamic studies and cetacean studies amongst many other projects. Her main duties in this role included managing the student research internship, organising their schedule, teaching and supervising all of the research projects, maintaining equipment and databases and ultimately ensuring the interns are receiving an excellent learning experience. In addition to her main scheduling responsibilities she has continued her interests in marine mammal biology by helping to run the marine mammal stranding course at Oceans and is currently helping to develop a national stranding response network. 

Femke Broekhuis  Femke Broekhuis - MSc in Wild Animal BiologyFemke Broekhuis graduated from the Wild Animal Biology (WAB) course in 2007 which launched her career in cheetah research. Supervised by Dr. Sarah Durant, Femke conducted a dissertation on cheetah habitat selection after which she was awarded the Tom Kaplan Prize scholarship do a PhD with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford. She then conducted 4/5 years of research on cheetahs in the Okavango Delta assessing cheetah interactions with lions and hyaenas. Femke is currently Project Director of the Mara Cheetah Project in Kenya where she aims to determine the current cheetah population in the Greater Mara Ecosystem, identify major threats and mitigate against them by implementing a science and community-based conservation approach.
 

 

Kristen Steele - MSc in Wild Animal Biology
Kristen Steele

Kristen Steele is the Programmes Coordinator at the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), overseeing the Economics of Happiness Project, including organising a recent international conference in California. She also works on fundraising and writes articles and reports on the environmental and social impacts of economic globalisation and localisation.

 

Xinli Yap - MSc in Wild Animal Biology

Xinli Yap

Xinli Yap, who graduated from the course in 2010, worked as Conservation and Research Officer in Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Her main duties included: liaising with governmental and non-governmental organizations and individuals on local and regional conservation projects; organizing seminars, talks and conservation events; preparing materials and conducting public outreach programmes; and conducting in-house scientific research. She has now moved on to work in spearheading the wildlife hazard management programme at Changi Airport.

 

 

Lydia Tiller - MSc in Wild Animal BiologyLydia Tiller

Upon graduating from the 2008/2009 class, Lydia worked on carrying out research on elephant cognition in Thailand. She worked for a scientist called Dr Joshua Plotnik who is a Newton post-doctoral research fellow from the University of Cambridge. Additionally, she acted as a field team leader for the Earthwatch programme that is run at the field site. Now, she works for Save the Elephants and is the Research and Science Manager for their Human-Elephant Co-Existence Program. Save the Elephants are working to preserve vital migration corridors, maintain elephant-friendly landscapes and promote tolerant relationships between elephant and man. 

Paul Rose

Paul Rose - MSc in Wild Animal BiologyPaul Rose at Martin Mere 2012, MSc Wild Animal Biology 2004/05 writes: I graduated from the MSc WAB in 2005 and went straight into academia teaching undergraduate animal science/animal management at Sparsholt College Hampshire. Since then I have developed my PhD in the Animal Behaviour group at the University of Exeter, together with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and I am researching the social organisation of captive flamingos. I teach part-time still at Sparsholt College, as well as guest lecturing for a number of other institutions around the UK. Through my links to zoos I am a member of the BIAZA Research Committee and the BIAZA Bird Working Group, and the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group. Without the stepping-stone of the MSc to help me develop my own research skills, experience of working with captive wild animals and contacts in these disciplines, I would have found my career path much harder to develop.

 

Nicola White - MSc in Wild Animal BiologyNicola White 

Graduated from MScWAB in 2004 and worked her way up in the RSPCA, becoming the Senior Scientific Officer: Exotics & Wildlife Trade, responsible for leading science-based projects, activities and programs relating to the welfare of exotic pets and wildlife trade. Prior to this she was Scientific Information Officer for the RSPCA's wildlife department, responsible for researching and checking wildlife content for the Society's publications and website, compiling reports, providing wildlife data and responding to wildlife enquiries. She now works as the Regional Cat Welfare Manager for Cats Protection, responsible for managing the implementation and supporting the development of the cat welfarepolicy framework across the regional branch network of Cats Protection in Scotland and North England region. 

 

 

 

 

"For anyone wishing to pursue a career in wildlife conservation, this course is a fantastic opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge and contacts to help you reach your goal. As a recent 2018 graduate of the MSc in Wild Animal Biology, I can wholeheartedly say I immensely enjoyed the course and all the wonderful experiences it provided. You are given the opportunity to work with some world-renowned experts in conservation, gain hands on experience in the practical management of captive animals and gain skills in conducting post-mortem investigations. What this course provides is over and above most master’s courses. On a personal development level, you gain essential critical evaluation skills that are imperative for any progression into higher research or education and the opportunity to make contacts with those working at Zoological Society of London, a leading charity in wildlife conservation." 
Hannah Davidson, Untied Kingdom

"The MSc in Wild Animal Biology is a unique opportunity to benefit not only from the knowledge and experiences of experts from around the world, but also from the exchange of ideas between the zoologists and veterinarians that come to the course from a variety of backgrounds. I learned far more than I expected to in the space of just one year."
Avanti Wadugodapitiya, Sri Lanka

"I completed the MSc Wild Animal Biology course in the years 2014-2015, and all I can say is I really enjoyed it. Although I liked my undergraduate university course, there was a definite lack in the practical side in terms of seeing real-life animal cases and witnessing firsthand how captive animals are managed. The collaboration between the Royal Veterinary College and the Zoological Society of London meant I was able to see the best of both worlds - see how veterinary medicine is progressing alongside the improvement in keeping wild animal collections in captivity. The link also meant we were able to witness some fascinating post mortems- a personal highlight was when I was present during the post mortem of a giant porcupine. Through my course I was able to gain many connections, and it also opened my eyes to the amount of work and research taking place in the wildlife epidemiology field. I would recommend this course to anyone who is passionate about conservation and research, and interested in all the different types of work going on worldwide."

Inez Januszczak, United Kingdom

"After several years of searching for the right graduate program, I was inspired to pursue the MSc Wild Animal Biology course. I had been working as a big cat keeper at Busch Gardens in hometown of Tampa, Florida for six years. While it was a difficult decision to leave a career I loved, I went on the journey to study abroad to gain a greater understanding of conservation and wild animal management on a global level. This unique course encompassed all aspects of conservation -- in situ and ex situ wild animal management, veterinary medicine, epidemiology, and research. The lecturers were amazing, truly leaders in conservation. The research component of the degree was exhilarating as we could design any project based on our interests. I chose to study polar bear behaviour, where I spent time at zoos in five different European countries, gaining insight into their ex situ management. The very best part of the course was collaborating and developing close friendships with people from all around the world."
Ashleigh Lutz, USA

"It was really fantastic for me. I got theoretical as well as practical knowledge from this course which proved invaluable in my career when working on the rehabilitation of native wildlife. My MSc dissertation provided me the opportunity to study a particular species, the Common Swift, which has since been my main focus of interest and further, future research ( www.falciotnegre.com )."
Enric Fuste, Spain