A herpetologist is a person who studies reptiles and amphibians, for example lizards, tortoises, snakes, crocodiles, frogs, toads and salamanders.
What am I going to do in this occupation?
In the broad sense herpetology can be divided into two main fields. “Pure” or “basic” herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians for its own sake. “Applied” herpetology is the application of knowledge derived from pure herpetology to specific problems or situations.
The herpetologist most familiar to people, is the taxonomist. This person usually works in a museum, university or other institution and is involved in naming and classifying reptiles and amphibians. Taxonomists are responsible for determining the relationships between similar species and constructing a framework, illustrating how each species is related to the other. Taxonomists also amass a great deal of information about the distribution and biogeography of the various species. This type of work usually involves field trips, with the collation and eventual publication of data in recognized scientific journals.
Other aspects of pure herpetology include research into the ecology of these animals (how they live), their physiology (how they function), their paleontology (their relatives from bygone eras), their ethobiology (how they behave and why) and their biogeography (where they occur and why).
Most of these research projects also require technical skills. Technical training can be obtained on the job, but further training is recommended. Technicians assist the herpetologist and many of these technical tasks can be performed by people with disabilities.
Herpetologists in the field of applied herpetology put the information that was acquired by the pure herpetologist to practical use. A good example of this kind of herpetologists is a reptile park curator or reptile husbandist. These persons are required to maintain reptiles and amphibians in captivity for various reasons. To ensure that the animals are kept in the best conditions, the curator must be familiar with the animals’ life histories. Knowledge derived from pure research is then applied pragmatically to cater for the animals’ needs. They are also responsible for the distribution of knowledge about reptiles and amphibians to the public. Because of the demands of this type of job, very often these people have to work abnormal hours.
What kind of personality do I need? To pursue a career in herpetology one should be interested specifically in reptiles and amphibians and have concern for animals in general.
Where can I work?
Job opportunities in the field of herpetology are limited and strong competition can be expected for the jobs that are available. A candidate should ideally be as highly qualified as possible. Institutions that would employ qualified herpetologists are museums, universities, zoos, reptile parks, crocodile farms, provincial nature conservation bodies and Parks Board authorities.
Can I work for myself in this occupation?
Herpetologists can start their own reptile- or nature park according to preference and financial potential. They can also publish articles, books and photographic publications.