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Students study Zoo & Conservation Science hands-on

Zoo & Conservation Science at Otterbein

In partnership with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the Ohio Wildlife Center, and Reef Systems Coral Farm, the Otterbein University Department of Biology and Earth Science offer one of the top programs in the country where students can earn a B.A. or B.S. degree in Zoo and Conservation Science Students also select from the Zoo Track or, new for the Fall 2018 term, an Aquarium Track which is the only program of its kind in the Midwest.

This unique, cutting-edge major allows students to explore animals, their husbandry and health, while developing the critical thinking skills needed to frame and solve problems occurring in zoo environments, aquariums, or wild animal populations which come in contact with human populations.

Otterbein is only one of five universities to offer a bachelor's degree in Zoo and Conservation Science.

Note: Otterbein's Zoo and Conservation Science program is highly competitive, admitting only 24 students to the Zoo Track and 12 students to the Aquarium Track each academic year. Students wishing to major in Zoo and Conservation Science must be admitted to Otterbein University as a Pre-Zoo and Conservation major. During the first year, students take an introductory course and can then apply to the program during spring semester of their first year.

Suggested programs of study:

Internship Experiences

This blog is a place for our students to share their internship experiences as they work with zoos, aquariums, and other animal and conservation based organizations around the world. 

Matt Vieth: Five Cardinal Experiences

Five Cardinal Experiences: Global & Intercultural Experiences


Matt Vieth: Zoo & Conservation Science

Matt Vieth spent a semester in Costa Rica, studying exotic plans and animals.  

/ Learn more about his Otterbein experience
/ Learn more about the Five Cardinal Experiences

Curricular Highlights

Some of the curricular highlights of the courses required for the Zoo and Conservation Science major include:

  • A first-year course introducing students to Zoos and Zookeeping or Marine Science in all of their facets
  • Practicum experiences at the Ohio Wildlife Center in the sophomore year including hands-on rehabilitation experiences with native Ohio wildlife
  • Practicum experience at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in the junior year including behind the scenes experiences involving enrichment and training or up-keeping your own salt water tank, visiting local aquariums, freshwater conservation and aquaculture facilities.
  • Upper division Biology courses in topics such as animal nutrition, animal reproduction, vertebrate biology, invertebrate biology, coral reef ecology, aquatic biology and conservation biology.
  • A semester long internship at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (for ten students) where students get the chance to work closely in a single area of zookeeping or education; other internship venues might include the Wilds, Reef Systems Coral Farm, other zoos, or at other appropriate agencies devoted to aquariums, wildlife or conservation
  • The chance in the senior year to conduct undergraduate research on zoo animal behavior, visitor studies, tadpoles, coral reef ecology, freshwater mussels, or wildlife rehabilitation records.

Otter Budgies: The Birds in Otterbein's Science Building

Dr. Anna Young, Assistant Professor in Otterbein University's Department of Biology and Earth Science and Director of the Zoo and Conservation Science program, talks about the budgerigars (or "budgies") in the Science Building.

Learning Outcomes

Some of the learning outcomes that students majoring in Zoo and Conservation Science can expect include:

  1. Increased awareness of the world around them: Animals interact with humans in captive as well as in wild populations. Students will appreciate the interconnections among animal research, animal husbandry, and animal health as they learn about animals, participate in the care of captive animals, and help to rehabilitate native animals for release back into the wild.
  2. Critical evaluation of problems: Students will be challenged beginning with their introductory course in this major to frame problems critically and to use decision matrices to order and formulate solutions that can be dynamic and flexible. In addition, they will be given opportunities to express these skills in real-life, hands-on contexts during the care and handling of live animals. Quantitative skills will be an essential part of this curriculum—from the production of ethograms in the introductory class (thinking of the cage as a three-dimensional space and the amount of time an animal spends in each portion of the cage as the variable to be graphed within that space) to the more advanced classes, when one might calculate the energy provided by a specific diet.
  3. Understanding of the relationship animals have with their environment: Animals interact with humans in natural as well as human created environments. The curriculum is structured so students will understand and appreciate natural environments as well as artificial or built environments. Issues related to ecology—and the interplay of habitat and competition for space—will be examined throughout the curriculum.
  4. Being empowered to assess current issues critically: The relationship between animals and their environments, whether natural or artificial, and the human use of these animals (even for educational purposes) provides ample opportunities to address value and action. Is it morally appropriate to house animals in unnatural habitats? Is it morally appropriate to capture and cure an animal for release back into the wild? All work with animals can be divisive with topics that generate strong polarized opinions. Several classes will explore the context of current issues related to Zoo and Conservation Science and challenge students to explore their positions based on critical assessment of the issues.
  5. Working with the tools necessary to be successful in the profession: The program combines a curriculum with strengths in the core sciences as well as hands-on application of skills learned in these science classes.


This program offers two majors: a B.A. in Zoo and Conservation Science and a B.S. in Zoo and Conservation Science with differing projected post-baccalaureate opportunities for students: 

  • The B.A. degree will prepare students for employment at a zoo or in the broad area of conservation biology, including biological consulting and employment by state and federal agencies.
  • The B.S. degree will prepare students for graduate studies in Zoo Science, Biology, Zoology, or Veterinary Medicine, as well as for employment in zoos.

The curriculum was developed in collaboration with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and our querying of zoos around the United States has confirmed our view that this is a degree program that zoos find attractive. 

Current graduates are enrolled in veterinary school at the Ohio State University and employed at a diverse array of institutions including: the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the San Diego Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Reid Park Zoo, the Baton Rouge Zoo, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Biology & Earth Science