School of Biological and Marine Sciences

MSc Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Biology

Programme code 7527

1 year

(+ optional placement)
Course type

Full-time, Part-time route available

Location Plymouth

Are you passionate about animal conservation and welfare and keen to shape the zoos and aquariums of the future? Our unique programme is the first of its kind in the world. Study factors affecting animal husbandry and breeding programmes within the context of international zoo management and collaboration. Our partnership with Paignton Zoo gives you access to their connections, research and expertise – so you’re primed to make a difference.

Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Biology

Careers with this subject

This programme equips you with the tools and experiences needed to work with captive animals in a variety of settings, not limited to zoos and aquariums. Graduates work in animal conservation, welfare and husbandry as researchers, curators and technicians, and via careers in advocacy, education and policy. You are also equipped to undertake further postgraduate study, with many graduates going on to PhD research or work in further education. Other employers include the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, and national and international conservation and welfare organisations. 

Key features

  • Gain behind-the-scenes access to zoos and insight from industry professionals, in a programme delivered in partnership with Paignton Zoo, part of Wild Planet Trust. During the taught programme, typically two days per week are spent at Paignton or on field trips to local zoos, aquariums, and conservation organisations.
  • Learn from specialist academics at Plymouth who conduct the fundamental and applied research that underpins conservation work and advances in animal welfare and husbandry.
  • Develop the research skills required to make evidence-based recommendations on enclosure design and husbandry that safeguard health and welfare and encourage expression of natural behaviour. 
  • Be inspired by a wide range of practical opportunities to help you develop scientific, professional and technical skills as a zoo biologist. This includes a 4-month independent research project to expand on an area of your own interest. 
  • Follow the taught programme with an optional 6-12 month industry placement in a zoo or aquarium. Applications for these opportunities are open to students who have achieved a merit or higher within their first semester. This placement provides an opportunity to further develop your expertise in context. 
  • Graduates work in zoos and aquariums as researchers, curators, educators and keepers. Many go on to PhD study or work in further education. Other employers include the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, and national and international conservation and welfare organisations. 
The teaching within this specialist programme will help you to: 
  • Understand how to manage small populations for conservation, considering genetics and social structure within a particular zoological collection right up to the level of global species breeding programmes. Learn industry-specialist software used by studbook coordinators to conduct demographic and genetic analysis.
  • Understand the particular challenges and skills required to work with aquarium species, with specialist teaching delivered by local aquariums, industry professionals and in our own animal facilities.
  • Understand the role of zoos and aquariums in the protection of species through not only breeding programmes, but research, advocacy initiatives and habitat-level conservation. Use tools developed for conservation practitioners to propose, monitor and manage conservation projects.
  • Understand the financial, ethical and legal framework in which zoos and aquariums operate as businesses. Develop business skills such as budgeting and proposal-writing to pitch your own ideas for contemporary zoo design and management.
  • Develop your communication skills to reach different stakeholders, via website design, persuasive essay-writing, funding pitches, scientific reports and business plans.

Course details

  • Programme overview

  • As a full-time student, you study six taught modules, covering everything from genetics to environmental enrichment, preventative health to budgeting. We update modules to reflect current thinking and you can specialise within them. For example, you can tailor your coursework to taxa of personal interest. Through teaching delivered at both the University and Paignton Zoo, you will develop expertise relevant to career paths in conservation, welfare, husbandry, advocacy and management within the zoo and aquarium industry. Modules are aligned to these different career paths, with outputs designed to emulate their typical outputs, for example a scientific report, business proposal, or husbandry portfolio. On completion of the taught programme, you will be equipped to conduct a final four-month research project of your choice. Previous projects have covered topics as diverse as female mate choice in white-faced saki monkeys, efficacy of ranger law enforcement in the protection of wild elephant populations, and zoo visitor engagement with educational and conservation initiatives.

    Core modules

    • Contemporary Zoo Management (ANIM5006)

      The contexts within which modern zoos function are introduced. These include but are not exclusive to: the history of zoos; the aims and ideals of contemporary zoos; national and international zoo networks and advocacy concerning zoos. Likewise the principles of business management are introduced in the context of public, private and voluntary sector conservation and environmental organisations.

    • Small Population Conservation (ANIM5007)

      The principles and problems of managing small populations of animals are explored both in situ and ex situ. The methods by which species can be conserved are explored and critiqued. In particular this module addresses obstacles and considerations for captive wild animal population management for conservation using a range of perspectives including reproductive, genetic, behavioural and practical considerations.

    • Conservation Ecology and Society (ANIM5008)

      The principles and applications of conservation science are introduced and examined with respect to the role of zoos and conservation organisations. An interdisciplinary conservation framework is presented to incorporate different perspectives including ecology, human behaviour and project management.

    • Animal Behaviour and Welfare Research (ANIM5010)

      Explores fundamental principles of evolution & behavioural function and how they underpin the concepts of animal welfare and well-being. Understand and critically evaluate approaches for welfare assessment in the context of zoos and aquariums, including behavioural, physiological and cognitive indices. Understand the application of animal behaviour science to evidence-based improvement of the captive environment.

    • Masters Placement Preparation (APIE500)

      This module is aimed at students who will be undertaking an industrial placement as part of their Masters programme. It is designed to assist students in their search for a placement, and preparation for the placement itself.

    • Research Project (BIO505)

      Students will design, conduct and report an original piece of research on a subject relevant to their named MSc programme.

    • Postgraduate Research Skills & Methods (BIO5131)

      The module provides the research- and communication-related skills that biology postgraduates require to carry out an original research project at the forefront of their academic discipline. Emphasis is given to the philosophy, design, ethics and management of research, effective communication to a range of audiences, and advice on career management and presentation skills involved in job applications and interviews.

    • Aquarium Health and Nutrition (ANIM5012)

      This module addresses the fundamentals of preventative health and nutrition in the context of aquariums as businesses and centres for education, research and conservation. Particular focus will be placed on exemplars of taxa-/species-specific conditions and on understanding how environments and diets may be managed to minimise health risks to animals. 

  • Optional masters placement year

  • Core modules

    • Masters Placement (APIE501)

      This module enables students to take a 6-12 month placement linked to their programme. Assessment is based on Progress Reports, Regional Tutor evaluation, Employer evaluation and self-evaluation via reflective report (or portfolio).

Every postgraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the programme aims, the programme structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest programme structure and may be subject to change:

MSc Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Biology programme specification_7527

The modules shown for this course or programme are those being studied by current students, or expected new modules. Modules are subject to change depending on year of entry.

Entry requirements

A 2:1 or equivalent preferably in a biology, science, marine or animal related subject. We will consider a 2:2 or equivalent or other relevant awards. If you don’t have any recent formal qualifications, we may accept workplace experience.
Applicants with overseas qualifications can check their comparability with the UK equivalent through Ecctis, which provides an advisory service.
If your first language is not English then evidence of English proficiency is required. The level of proficiency that is required can vary with the type of programme for which you are applying. For further advice on the appropriateness of overseas qualification and proficiency in the use of English, please contact our  International Office.
The minimum IELTS score for acceptable English proficiency for entry is normally 6.5 (with a minimum of 5.5 in each element).
We welcome applicants with international qualifications. To view other accepted qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

Fees, costs and funding

Student 2023-2024 2024-2025
Home £10,500 £11,000
International £18,000 £19,800
Part time (Home) £580 £610
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per 10 credits. Please note that fees are reviewed on an annual basis. Fees and the conditions that apply to them shown in the prospectus are correct at the time of going to print. Fees shown on the web are the most up to date but are still subject to change in exceptional circumstances. More information about fees and funding.

Tuition fee discount for University of Plymouth graduates

If you studied your undergraduate degree at Plymouth, you may be eligible for a fee discount if you complete your postgraduate studies here as well.
  • 10% or 20% discount on tuition fees for home students 
  • For 2024/2025 entry, a 20% discount on tuition fees for international students 

Postgraduate scholarships for international students

We offer several scholarships for international students who wish to study postgraduate taught (PGT) degree programmes.

Tuition fees for optional placement years

The fee for all taught postgraduate students undertaking a placement year will be calculated as 20% of your course's 'home student' tuition fee.
 Learn more about placement year tuition fees 

How to apply

When to apply
Most of our taught programmes begin in September. Applications can usually be made throughout the year, and are considered until programmes are full.
Before you apply
Familiarise yourself with the information required to complete your application form. You will usually be required to supply:
  • evidence of qualifications (degree certificates or transcripts), with translations if not in English, to show that you meet, or expect to meet the entry requirements
  • evidence of English language proficiency, if English is not your first language
  • a personal statement of approximately 250-400 words about the reasons for your interest in the course and outlining the nature of previous and current related experience. You can write this into the online application form, or include it as a separate document
  • your curriculum vitae or résumé, including details of relevant professional/voluntary experience, professional registration/s and visa status for overseas workers
  • proof of sponsorship, if applicable.
If you require further information take a look at our application guidance. 
Disability Inclusion Services
If you have an impairment, health condition or disability, learn about the additional support the University provides.
International students
Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office. Take a look at our how to apply information or email
Submitting an application
Once you are happy that you have all of the information required you can apply using our online postgraduate application form (the blue 'Apply now' icon on this page). 
What happens after I apply?
You will normally receive a decision on your application within four weeksof us receiving your application. You may be asked to provide additional information; two academic/professional references, confirming your suitability for the course; or to take part in an interview (which in the case of overseas students may be by telephone or video conference) and you will be sent a decision by letter or email.
We aim to make the application procedure as simple and efficient as possible. Our Admissions and Course Enquiries team is on hand to offer help and can put you in touch with the appropriate faculty if you wish to discuss any programme in detail. 
If you would like any further information please contact the Admissions and Course Enquiries team:
Telephone: +44 (0)1752 585858
Admissions policy
More information and advice for applicants can be referenced in our admissions policy which can be found on the student regulations, policies and procedures page. Prospective students are advised to read the policy before making an application to the University.

Academic staff

Our teaching team brings together specialists at both Plymouth and Wild Planet Trust to support research-led teaching in this diverse programme. 
At Plymouth, specialisms of staff include: applications of technology to the study of behaviour; nutrition and welfare of captive birds, fish and amphibians; disease risks to wild populations threatened by climate change; and population genetics of captive and natural populations. The University’s teaching team include members of Plymouth’s Herpetology Conservation Research Unit and Animal Behaviour and Evolution and Ecology Research Groups, who collaborate with institutions including Chester Zoo and London Zoo.
Zoo conservation staff talking to students at Paignton Zoo

Our experts

Meet our school technical staff   

Our technical staff are integral to the delivery of all our programmes and bring a diverse range of expertise and skills to support students in laboratories, workshops, and the field. 

Paignton Zoo

Our partnership with Paignton Zoo means you’ll benefit from an exciting blend of classroom-based and real-life activities as you progress through your programme – as well as links to international conservation research and initiatives. Behind-the-scenes insight with the university’s industry partners at Paignton Zoo and its parent body, Wild Planet Trust that oversees the UK and international conservation work of Paignton and Newquay Zoo. The taught programme includes visits to and guest speakers from Paignton’s broader collaborative network of zoos and conservation organisations. Students can extend this industry experience by conducting immersive research projects within zoos.
Silverback gorilla at Paignton Zoo
Paignton Zoo
Ring-Tailed Lemur, Paignton Zoo
Giraffe at Paignton Zoo

Think about your future

Our programme equips you with the skills needed to build a successful career in wildlife conservation. 
The unique blend of zoo-based learning and academic teaching delivers the vital knowledge and understanding needed to thrive in this competitive arena.

Hands-on learning from experts in animal welfare

Martie travelled from the USA to Plymouth to pursue our programme.
I chose Plymouth as the course was a lot more hands-on. The programme partners with Paignton Zoo, so classes are on campus and at the zoo. I got to learn from a variety of people who are currently doing the type of work I would like to do one day. 
Martie Stothoff international student studying MSc Zoo Conservation Biology

Sarah Curtis

 After graduating from Plymouth, I was incredibly lucky to be offered a job with African Impact as their Principal Researcher at their Kruger location in South Africa
I run their conservation projects, collaborating with local and international partners and NGOs to collect data on species including the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo) to further assist with conservation efforts in the field – while also living only 30 minutes from the incredible Kruger National Park. 
Sarah Curtis portrait
Marine station

Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates Laboratory

As well as contributing to the conservation of species, the Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates Lab gives you invaluable practical experience working with animal husbandry.
It helps you build a greater understanding of the work that goes into caring for species, including many that are either endangered or critically endangered. 
Female panther chameleon