Zoo Science Program, Zoo & Conservation Science Major

In partnership with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio Wildlife Center, and Reef Systems Coral Farm, the Otterbein University Department of Biology and Earth Science offers 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 the Aquarium Track, the only one of its kind in the Midwest.​

Students in this unique, cutting-edge program explore animal behavior, husbandry, and health. A wide range of available courses and experiences provide the critical thinking necessary to solve animal problems in zoo, aquarium, or wild environments. Otterbein is only one of a few universities to offer a bachelor’s degree in Zoo and Conservation Science.​

Otterbein’s Zoo and Conservation Science program is competitive, admitting 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 are admitted to Otterbein University as a Pre-Zoo and Conservation major. Students apply to the program at the end of spring semester of their first year after taking core biology and chemistry classes, and completing ZOSC 1010, an introduction to zoo science.​ Please see the Admission Selection Criteria for the criteria needed to apply to the program.

Have questions? See our Zoo & Conservation Science FAQ for more information. Would you like to schedule visit to Otterbein? Contact our Office of Admissions at 614-823-1500

Allison Gould ('21)

Zoo & Conservation Science
Conservation and Science Volunteer Intern, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Emma Kimberly ('20)

Zoo & Conservation Science
Research Assistant, Gamboa, Panamá

Eileen Connon ('19) & Mallory Fox ('20)

Zoo & Conservation Science,
Cape Parrot Project Research Interns, South Africa

Chelsey Butler ('19) & Catherine Jenkins ('20)

Zoo & Conservation Science
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Zoo and Conservation Science Internships

Read about our students’ internship experiences in our blog!

Curricular Highlights

  • A first-year introductory course on Zoos and Zookeeping or Marine Science that includes a research project at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.
  • Practicum experience at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Otterbein’s Equine Facility in the junior year including behind the scenes experiences, enrichment design, welfare assessment, and animal training or up-keeping your own saltwater tank, visiting local aquariums, freshwater conservation and aquaculture facilities.​
  • Practicum experiences at the Ohio Wildlife Center in the sophomore year including hands-on veterinary techniques, outreach, research and other rehabilitation experiences with native Ohio wildlife​.
  • Diverse internship opportunities in animal care, research, operations, or education at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio Wildlife Center, and other facilities and wildlife research sites in the U.S. and abroad. Read about past student internship experiences on our blog.​
  • Upper division Biology courses in topics such as animal nutrition, animal reproduction, vertebrate biology, invertebrate biology, coral reef ecology, aquatic biology and conservation biology.​
  • The chance in the senior year to conduct undergraduate research on animal behavior, visitor studies, conservation, wild chimpanzees and other primates, birds, amphibians and reptiles, coral reef ecology, freshwater mussels, or wildlife rehabilitation records.


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“My internship at the Columbus Zoo, the research I conducted with pangolins at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa and all of my conservation-based classes at Otterbein have set me up for a career in conservation and animal health.”

Rachel Wilson ’19

Zoo & Conservation Science Major
Attending the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine


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“The power of the Zoo and Conservation Science program is its ability to inspire students to engage in conservation. After completing multiple undergraduate research projects on species ranging from red-eyed treefrogs in Panama to gray treefrogs in Ohio, I was inspired to continue pursuing research in graduate school. It is because of the extraordinary mentoring I received at Otterbein that I am able to conduct research on amphibians and climate change.”

Troy Neptune ’17

Zoo & Conservation Science
Troy is now a PhD candidate in Biology at Case Western Reserve University.


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“My internships at the New Mexico Wildlife Center, Ohio Wildlife Center, and Columbus Zoo all helped cultivate my passion for the conservation of wildlife native to North America.”

Rebekah Perry ’18

Zoo & Conservation Science Major
WV Wildlife Education Director at the Heritage Farm Museum and Village in Huntington, West Virginia


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“Otterbein has given me many priceless experiences. The two that I cherish the most are my internship at the Houston Zoo and serving as founder and president of the Otterbein Animal Conservation Club.”

Kyle Turner ’19

Zoo & Conservation Science Major
Currently a Guest Engagement Guide at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, Florida


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“Having the ability to do an Honors thesis at The Wilds and then present at the 2019 AZA Conference helped me grow both as a zookeeper and scientist, as well as make connections.”

Taylor Wilson ’19

Zoo & Conservation Science Major
Keeper Level 1 at the Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge, Virginia

Learn more story >

Student Opportunities

Oceans Research Internships


From the Cheetah Conservation Fund to the Dallas Zoo, read about our students’ incredible internship experiences on the Zoo Blog.

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Students can engage in research with faculty on campus and in the wild, present at scientific conferences, and publish their findings.

Travel Experiences


Learn about opportunities to travel abroad through our 5 cards program and other opportunities, like study abroad and travel courses.

Professional Affiliations

We are Conservation Partners with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). ​

We partner with the Association of Minority Zoo & Aquarium Professionals.​

Otterbein has hosted the conferences Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation (ZACC) and Finding Your Voice. ​

Frequently Asked Questions about Zoo & Conservation Science

How can I be a competitive applicant to the Zoo and Conservation Science program?

The most important thing is to excel in your science and math classes as those are foundational to your undergraduate experience in the zoo major. Animal experience is not required, and will only be used in application decisions in case of a tie breaker. Students who have gotten As and Bs in their science and math classes during their first year at Otterbein are the most competitive for acceptance into the major.

How competitive is admission into the Zoo and Conservation Science program?

There are only 24 spots available in the Zoo track in order to provide meaningful, hands on experiences with animals. The new Aquarium track provides an additional 12 spots. How competitive each year is varies by the number of students entering as pre-zoo majors, but on average we have a 75% or higher acceptance rate. Students applying at the end of their first year will designate on their application whether they want their application to be reviewed for the Zoo track, the Aquarium track, or both.

What is the difference between “Zoo and Conservation Science”, “Zoology” and “Animal Science”?

Zoo and Conservation Science is the study of animal care, management, and conservation. It involves observation and direct work with living animals. Zoology is the study of animals, and may not incorporate any work with living animals, but rather could focus on dissections and comparative anatomy studies. Animal Science is the study of domestic animals for the meat production industry. Otterbein offers a Zoo and Conservation Science degree. We also have a Equine Science degree, which focuses on the care and management of horses.

How can I get an internship working with animals?

There are many summer internships that are arranged through Otterbein University that focus on animal care, as well as education and research. Internship information is provided in the fall each year from the Director of the Zoo program. You can also go to the website of any organization that you are interested in and apply for an internship on your own, or check aza.org/joblisting/ and select the Internships button and click Search. You can enter keywords if you’re interested in a specific state, animal, or institution.

Will I actually be able to get a job in a zoo after I graduate?

Zoo jobs are very competitive, with as many as 1000 people applying to one position! This curriculum was developed in collaboration with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Every zoo we partner with has confirmed that this is a degree track that they find attractive for job applicants. We are confident that our majors are prepared to the best of their ability to be competitive for a job in a zoo. Our graduates to date are employed at multiple zoos as zoo keepers, work at other research centers, or are enrolled in vet or grad school.

Program Learning Outcomes

Student Learning Outcomes University Learning Goals (KMERI*)
1. Students will be able to define and explain major concepts in the fields of Biology and/or Earth Science. Knowledgeable
2. Students will be able to effectively express scientific concepts and results in oral and written forms. Multi-literate
3. Students will be able to think critically and solve problems by employing the scientific method. Inquisitive
4. Students will develop laboratory and research skills. Engaged
5. Students will be able to work cooperatively while simultaneously becoming strong independent learners. Engaged
6. Students will work safely and efficiently in the laboratory and field. Responsible
7. Students will apply a working knowledge of ethics to their field of study. Responsible

*NOTE: KMERI refers to Otterbein's learning goals. It stands for KnowledgeableMulti-literateEngagedResponsible, and Inquisitive. To learn more about KMERI, visit our University Learning Goals page.