Does becoming a wildlife inspector sound like an unusual and challenging occupation? Do you love animals, and want a job protecting wildlife, specifically wildlife that is being transported in and out of the country? If so, then you might have a future in this rewarding and challenging career field.
In short, wildlife inspectors are responsible for monitoring and inspecting commercial shipments of wildlife, and wildlife products, in and out of the US. The goal is to protect the safety of these animals, and prevent the illegal trafficking of endangered or restricted species.
Some of these animals have been captured in the wilds of Africa or South America, and are being shipped to the US to be sold as pets. Others will be sold as breeding stock, and others will be killed and used to produce various products. Many of these animals are transported and stored in inhumane conditions that can cause injury, disease, or even death.
According to recent estimates, the wildlife trade in the US accounts for over $2 billion in annual revenue, and is growing every year. So the need for highly-trained and qualified wildlife inspectors is expected to remain strong, especially with the high demand and large volume of traffic in this industry.
About the job of inspecting wildlife
Wildlife inspectors typically work at various port of entry locations around the country, including California, Florida, New York, Washington State, and along the Canadian and Mexican borders. Also international airports employ inspectors to examine travelers to make sure they’re not trying to smuggle restricted animals, or animal products such as souvenirs, in or out of the country.
These inspectors check to make sure that all of the necessary permits and documentation have been obtained for the shipments of live animals and wildlife products, and they have authorization to seize any illegal shipments they encounter during their inspections. They also look for animals who appear to be sick or have a disease. Inspectors work closely with law enforcement officials, and customs and border patrol specialists, and arrests are often made when illicit contraband is seized.
A large part of an inspector’s responsibility is to ensure than any live animals that are traveling in or out of the country are being treated humanely. Shipping containers that house wildlife need to provide good ventilation, light, and a place for the animals to relieve themselves. There also needs to be adequate food and water for the animals during their journey, and handlers to look in on them on a regular basis.
Wildlife inspectors who are stationed at sea ports spend much of their time inspecting and investigating large shipping containers that are being loaded on and off cargo ships. The use a variety of tools to perform these duties, including heavy work gloves, flashlights, and viewing tubes made from clear Plexiglas.
Typical working conditions for inspectors
If you’re interested in a career in this field, be prepared to work odd hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Many inspectors are on call, and can be called into work unscheduled overtime shifts when the need arises. That kind of schedule can be hard on a person’s family life, so you need to take that into consideration when weighing the pros and cons of becoming a wildlife inspector.
Other hazards of this type of work include possible injury from the live animals being transported. A strict safety protocol has to be followed, as animals who are being transported in shipping containers are under unusual stress from the constant movement, and the unusual and unfamiliar surroundings. Extra care needs to be exercised when working with large predatory or venomous species like big cats or snakes.
Inspectors are also exposed to a variety of diseases that can be carried by animals, especially by birds and primates. If an animal is sick or appears to have an illness or disease, they are quarantined at the port of entry until a qualified veterinarian can examine them to diagnose their condition. This often prevents diseases from entering the country and spreading into the US animal population.
Also keep in mind that promotions are common among wildlife field inspectors, and once you “pay your dues” and spend several years working in the field, you’ll have an opportunity to move up into a management or supervisory role. These positions typically have more regular hours, and don’t involve some of the hazards of field work.
Training and certification
Most workers entering the field of wildlife inspection have a background in one of the animal sciences such as wildlife biology or zoology, or they have a law enforcement or criminal justice background. Some inspectors also have wildlife management or park ranger experience in their work histories. Being comfortable around animals, and having good animal handling skills is a prerequisite as well.
Other important skills for entry-level field inspectors include computer skills, including knowledge of tablet-based devices like the Ipad. Good communication and interpersonal skills are also required, as inspectors are interacting with a variety of law enforcement, customs and border patrol agents, as well as travelers and shipping agents, on a regular basis.
In addition, anyone planning on working as an inspector for the US Fish and Wildlife Service is required to successfully complete an eight-week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center located in Georgia. Upon completion of this rigorous training, the prospective agent then receives some additional field training under the supervision of experienced inspectors.
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