MSc Zoo Conservation Biology

Turn your passion for animals into a career in conservation, with a practically focused masters supported by Chester Zoo

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Zoos play a crucial role in animal conservation. Whether they’re carrying out important research into animal behaviour, taking part in breeding programmes, educating the public or advising policymakers, they are crucial players in international conservation.

Study our masters in Zoo Conservation Biology and you can play your part too, as you develop expertise in the science which underpins the management and maintenance of captive populations, and explore the links with species conservation on a worldwide scale.

The main core unit is Zoo Conservation, which we deliver with the help of our partners at Chester Zoo – giving you access to the zoo’s collections and facilities. Within the programme you can participate in a field course in Poland, Ecuador or East Africa or apply for a three-month work placement at a zoo or aquarium. Other core units, delivered at our Manchester campus,  include  practical techniques and analysis, statistics and research design and organismal genetics. Amongst a wide range of option units, you’ll also have the chance to specialise in subjects like species recovery and behavioural biology.

This all then feeds back into your master’s research project, where you’ll combine your own data collection with background research and data analysis, and communicate your findings in a comprehensive dissertation.

It’s a degree that takes a strong numerical and research-orientated approach, backed up with essential practical skills. As such, you’ll leave us with a valuable range of professional tools to help you succeed in this rewarding area.

Features and Benefits

Career Prospects

This is a course that can pave the way to a wide range of career paths and professional possibilities, providing a route into animal management within captive populations. 

By the time you leave us, you should be equipped to pursue animal management, research, advisory and educational roles with a wide range of organisations, from zoos to environmental consultancies, and government research bodies to NGOs. You might also decide to continue your studies onto PhD level.

Careers support is available from the moment you join us, and for up to three years after you finish your course. Dedicated careers and employability advisors in the Department of Natural Sciences and the Environment and the University Careers Service will help you find the role that’s right for you.

Learn more about graduate careers

Entry requirements

You’ll need a good UK honours degree – at least a 2:2 – or the international equivalent, in a relevant subject such as ecology, biology, zoology, botany, animal behaviour or wildlife biology. Some previous experience in genetics and statistics will be valuable. We might also consider your application if you have several years’ professional experience in a related field.

International students please see

Overseas applicants will require IELTS with an overall score of 6.5 with no less than 5.5 in any category, or an equivalent accepted English qualification. Accepted English qualifications can be viewed here.

Course details

Whether you study full or part time, you’ll cover a total of 6 core units – including your work placement or field course and your dissertation project. The core units explore areas such as Zoo Conservation, Statistics and Research Design and Organismal Genetics.

If you accept an offer of a place, you will be automatically enrolled for the core units. At the course induction we can advise you on the best choice of option units to support your particular interests and balance your workload across the year (or two if you are part-time). The specialist option areas include  Behavioural Biology, Species Recovery, Topics in Conservation and Sustainability,  Earth Observation and GIS and Avian Biology and Conservation.

You’ll either do a three-month work placement at a zoo or aquarium in the UK, or a field course in Poland, East Africa or Ecuador. Your final masters-level project could also involve research overseas.  If you apply for a work placement and are successful, you may be able to carry out your research project at  the same institution, almost doubling your time there.

MSc student research projects

Many students will carry out their research project at a zoo, aquarium or similar institution. The projects are often directly aligned with staff research projects and/or may be suggested by the host institutions. They may cover aspects of animal welfare, ecology, behaviour, genetics, anatomy and physiology.

There may also be the possibility of carrying out your project overseas, for example, we are currently working with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Mount Kenya Game Ranch on the captive management and reintroduction of the critically endangered mountain bongo. A number of students have also been working on captive bear welfare and management in Cambodia.

Read the Biology Student blog: Carly Morris - Seal Research

Core units

  • Zoo Conservation*
  • Statistics and Research Design
  • Practical Techniques and Analysis
  • Topics in Organismal Genetics
  • Field Course OR Placement
  • Masters Project in Zoo Conservation

*The Zoo Conservation unit is taught during the day over a period of two weeks, usually in February. Most of the days are spent at Chester Zoo (transport provide from our main site) with other lectures/seminars and visits provided by Manchester Met staff. Other course units are taught in the evenings. 

Option units

  • Topics in Conservation and Sustainability
  • Behavioural Biology
  • Species Recovery
  • Avian Biology and Conservation
  • Earth Observation and GIS

Read more about this year of study

Core Units

Statistics & Research Design

In this unit we will address problems and solutions associated with the analysis of ‘real’ ecological and behavioural data sets. We will use a problem-based approach, centred on a large data set, to investigate methods of data manipulation and transformation, exploratory analyses (numerical and graphical) and hypothesis testing. Lectures will deliver background information, relating to experimental design, hypothesis testing, exploratory data analysis and statistical model building. Practical computer-based exercises will support topics covered in lectures and used to demonstrate data handling and analytical techniques.

Masters Project in Conservation and Behaviour

This unit allows you to undertake a novel research project appropriate to your programme of study and to practise the skills of research design, analysis, and scientific communication. You will be allocated an appropriate project supervisor. At the beginning of the course we will provide an extensive list of projects in the field, laboratory and in the UK and overseas. If you have your own project idea, we can help you develop it. Projects undertaken at a distance will normally be preceded by an intensive period of preparation and planning with the supervisor. 

Practical Techniques

This unit provides you with the practical experience and techniques essential for your chosen field. Topics covered may include distance sampling, social network analysis, behavioural recording techniques, species distribution modelling, video analysis, camera trapping and sound analysis.

Field Course

This unit will introduce students to applied ecological techniques and behavioural data collection. Students will design and deliver a research project during a residential field course in either Poland, Tanzania or at the Manchester Met field station in Ecuador. Students choose a field course or a placement (see information under Course Details and Additional Information).

Topics in Organismal Genetics

Within the context of modern population genetics, this unit will introduce the application of molecular genetics tools to a range of problems in conversation biology and evolution. Equal emphasis will be placed on background theory, data handling and generation and surveying modern applied genetics through case studies and primary literature. 

Zoo Conservation

This unit will consider the role of captive animals in conservation from both a biological and management viewpoint.  It will examine how a range of biological research techniques have contributed to the maintenance, successful breeding and welfare of zoo animals. It will consider the ethical issues associated with zoos and evaluate the value of in situ, ex situ and reintroduction programmes for conservation generally. In addition, the unit will examine the management of captive breeding programmes and the factors that affect collection planning. Specific topics covered include: the multiple roles of zoos in education; conservation and research; the World Zoo Conservation Strategy; history, organisation, finance, legislation and ethics; managing captive breeding populations including animal welfare, studbooks, nutrition, disease control, record-keeping and behavioural enrichment; reintroduction theory and practice; species roles in conservation; education and marketing and the use of biological knowledge, practical animal management, education and public safety in enclosure design. Takes place at Chester Zoo and at MMU.

Likely Optional Units

Avian Biology and Conservation

This unit deals with the evolution, biology, and biogeography of birds and how evidence from these different research themes is utilised for avian conservation management. The unit will involve: an introduction to avian taxonomy and phylogeny; examination of the evolution of avian communication and life-history strategies; an introduction to avian biogeography and possible impacts of climate change and habitat modification; quantifying anthropogenic threats and avian extinction risk; human-avian population conflicts; and exploring possible solutions for applied avian conservation management such as habitat restoration schemes, agri-environment schemes and ecosystem services.

Behavioural Biology

This unit provides an overview of the contemporary study of animal behaviour and applied animal behaviour, together with detailed case studies. The unit prepares you for further study or employment in animal behaviour and related fields by providing experience of research design and scientific communication. The unit is underpinned by evolutionary thinking and the four levels of analysis Niko Tinbergen put forward for the study of Animal Behaviour, namely development (learning), mechanism (neurological and hormonal underpinnings), function (how does it help an individual survive and reproduce?) and evolution (how did it evolve?).

Species Recovery

This unit focuses on conservation actions that aim to reverse declines in threatened species. These include reintroductions of endangered or extinction species, ex-situ conservation breeding, post-release monitoring, habitat manipulation and biological control, and research underpinning knowledge of the causes decline and recovery priorities. The unit will draw on case studies from the tropics, and from species recovery efforts for UK and European plants and animals. 

Topics in Conservation and Sustainability

The unit will examine biological theory and environmental policy underlying the sustainable use of resources to maintain their productive capacity and protective function. Example topics covered include: harvesting; soil management; tourism; genetic modification; tragedy of the commons.

Earth Observation and GIS

This unit provides students with an introduction to the principles of Earth Observation and explores its role in data gathering (including recent sensor developments) and information extraction for GIS applications.

Assessment weightings and contact hours

10 credits equates to 100 hours of study, which is a combination of lectures, seminars and practical sessions, and independent study. A masters qualification typically comprises of 180 credits, a PGDip 120 credits, a PGCert 60 credits and an MFA 300 credits. The exact composition of your study time and assessments for the course will vary according to your option choices and style of learning, but it could be:


Additional information about this course

Students are expected to comply with the Schools codes of conduct and behaviour on field courses, placements and exchanges. Placements and study exchange opportunities are dependent on passing each stage at the first opportunity and being of good standing.

Placement options

The theory unit is studied at Chester Zoo. As part of this course, there is also a three-month work placement which can take place at any zoo in the UK or overseas - drawing on our extensive network, we’ll support you in finding the right institution for your particular interests and career goals.

If you decide you’d like to do your research project at the same institution, you’ll be able to convert to what is effectively a six-month placement.

Department of Natural Sciences

Our Department of Natural Sciences is a research-rich academic community with a well-established reputation in biology, chemistry, geography and environmental science.

The department works with research institutions, industry partners, national organisations and NGOs worldwide to address the challenges posed by environmental, socio-economic, cultural and political change, as well as health and advanced materials.

More about the department

Taught by experts

Your studies are supported by a team of committed and enthusiastic teachers and researchers, experts in their chosen field. We also work with external professionals, many of whom are Manchester Met alumni, to enhance your learning and appreciation of the wider subject.

Meet our expert staff


UK and EU students

UK and EU students: Full-time fee: £9,500 per year. Tuition fees will remain the same for each year of your course providing you complete it in the normal timeframe (no repeat years or breaks in study).

UK and EU students: Part-time fee: £1584 per 30 credits studied per year. Tuition fees will remain the same for each year of your course providing you complete it in the normal timeframe (no repeat years or breaks in study).

Non-EU and Channel Island students

Non-EU international and Channel Island students: Full-time fee: £17,500 per year. Tuition fees will remain the same for each year of your course providing you complete it in the normal timeframe (no repeat years or breaks in study).

Non-EU international and Channel Island students: Part-time fee: £2917 per 30 credits studied per year. Tuition fees will remain the same for each year of your course providing you complete it in the normal timeframe (no repeat years or breaks in study).

Additional Information

A Masters qualification typically comprises 180 credits, a PGDip 120 credits, a PGCert 60 credits, and an MFA 300 credits. Tuition fees will remain the same for each year of study provided the course is completed in the normal timeframe (no repeat years or breaks in study).

Additional costs

Specialist Costs

Students often choose to buy a laptop for their degree (costing approximately £300 to £400) and a printer (costing £50 to £100 including print consumables) but there are numerous drop-in computer facilities across campus and laptops for loan in the library. Lab coats and safety glasses are provided free of charge and expected to last for the duration of the course. Students will have to purchase replacements for lost or damaged PPE.

Placement Costs


Students have a choice of two core residential fieldtrips associated with their course. These are subsidised but students can expect to pay a contribution to costs of approx. £250 for European (currently Poland) based field course and £2500 for Tanzania based field course. For the field course to East Africa additional costs may incurred if inoculations are required (approx. £200-300).

Other Costs


Manchester Metropolitan University now provides free travel insurance for students when they travel in connection with their programme of study, for example, placements, field trips, exchanges etc. However, students should also take out personal insurance cover for belongings as items such as mobile phones are not covered by this policy. Our courses have field-based elements of delivery so students would be expected to dress appropriately (i.e. purchase waterproof coats and trousers, sturdy footwear/walking boots). Students will be expected to print out assessments (including dissertations (with binding) and posters). Travel expenses associated with independent data collection for final year dissertations are not reimbursed by the School. Students will be advised to undertake low-cost local fieldwork at the design and planning stages of a project if necessary. We currently offer the opportunity, subject to demand, of carrying out project field work in Kenya or Tanzania, if available this would carry and additional cost of between £1,800 - £2,300, depending upon whether taken in conjunction with the residential optional Tanzania based field course.

Postgraduate Loan Scheme

Loans of up to £10,906 for many Postgraduate Courses

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Alumni Loyalty Discount

Rewarding our graduates

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How to apply

The quickest and most efficient way to apply for this course is to apply online. This way, you can also track your application at each stage of the process.

Apply online now

If you are unable to apply online, you can apply for postgraduate taught courses by completing the postgraduate application form. There are exceptions for some professional courses – the course information on our on-line prospectus will give you more information in these cases.

Please note: to apply for this course, you only need to provide one reference.

You can review our current Terms and Conditions before you make your application. If you are successful with your application, we will send you up to date information alongside your offer letter.


Programme Review
Our programmes undergo an annual review and major review (normally at 6 year intervals) to ensure an up-to-date curriculum supported by the latest online learning technology. For further information on when we may make changes to our programmes, please see the changes section of our Terms and Conditions.

Important Notice
This online prospectus provides an overview of our programmes of study and the University. We regularly update our online prospectus so that our published course information is accurate. Please check back to the online prospectus before making an application to us to access the most up to date information for your chosen course of study.

Confirmation of Regulator
The Manchester Metropolitan University is regulated by the Office for Students (OfS). The OfS is the independent regulator of higher education in England. More information on the role of the OfS and its regulatory framework can be found at

All higher education providers registered with the OfS must have a student protection plan in place. The student protection plan sets out what students can expect to happen should a course, campus, or institution close. Access our current Student Protection Plan.