WCO Career

Becoming a Wildlife Control Operator

If you like working outdoors, handling animals and soothing customers, a career in the wildlife control industry may be for you.

This page is dedicated to helping you learn about what it takes to get into this field.

Choosing a Career in Wildlife Damage Control

We have been asked for information on this career by a Vocational Career Counselor. ICWDM hopes to help career counselors to understand more about this occupation.


Animal Control Officer (ACO) normally relates to city, county personnel involved with enforcement of leash laws. ACO’s (Animal control officers) handle pets, like cats and dogs.

Animal damage controllers (ADC), Nuisance wildlife control operators (NWCO), Problem animal controllers (PAC), Wildlife Control Operators (WCO) are all synonyms. These workers, by contrast, are people paid by customers to remove problem animals. While there is overlap between these two jobs, (as people can do both and often do) they are in many respects different. Animal damage controllers work year-round. Fur trappers work in the fall and winter.

Pest Control is a different industry. Pest control deals primarily with bugs, mice and rats and often use pesticides. Animal damage controllers, by contrast, rarely use pesticides and handle wildlife such as squirrels, skunks, raccoons, moles, voles, beaver etc.

Trappers normally refer to fur trappers. Trappers are people who seek animals for their fur. This occupation is usually a hobby or a part time business at best.

Job Title Pets Bugs Wildlife Rats/Mice/Unprotected Birds
Animal Conrol Officer Yes No Sometimes No
Fur Trappers No No Several species No
Wildlife Control Optr. No No Yes Yes

Key Facts about Animal Damage Control

1. Most animal damage controllers are self-employed. However, some of the larger companies do hire workers. While not many have reached this size, the industry is maturing and so the opportunities for employment are growing. Normally, these companies are contracted by the customer for a specific problem, i.e. squirrels in attic. The relationship ends when the problem is resolved.

2. Many states require a license or permit. These will be issued through the state’s division of fisheries and wildlife or similar agency. Potential workers need to understand that humane treatment of wildlife is a prime concern. Failure to follow standard procedures can result in severe legal and publicity problems.

Occupational Requirements

  • Physically demanding: Success in this field will requires walking, climbing ladders, scaling roofs, crawling under buildings and into attics. If you cannot lift 80 pounds or more comfortably, you would not be able to work with ladders. Animals can weigh anywhere from 2 pounds for a gray squirrel, to 20 pounds for a raccoon, to 50 pounds for a beaver. Carrying caged animals off roofs adds to the danger as the animal will run back and forth in the cage, thereby shifting the weight of the cage. Failure to prepare for the change can cause a catastrophic fall off the ladder.
  • Dangerous: Job exposes the worker to dangers from animals, heights, and crawl spaces. Exposure to zoonotic diseases is a risk.
  • Methodical: Workers need to perform similar tasks with consistent accuracy and thoroughness.
  • Responsible: Workers must remember where traps have been set. In some cases, dozens of traps placed around a city will need to be checked daily no matter what the weather.
  • Driver’s license: Worker will need to be able to operate a light to heavy truck safely while under time constraints.
  • Customer relations: Workers will be required to have high customer service skills. Work often is done inside homes with customers watching.
  • Phone skills are important.
  • Self-supervision: Ability to work without supervision. Work often is lonely and without supervision by a boss or client.
  • Adaptable: Workers must be inventive and have a can-do attitutude when confronted with unique wildlife control situations.
  • Handle inclement weather: Wildlife control work is done year-round. Worker must be as comfortable working in a hot attic as they are outdoors on a ladder during freezing temperatures.

Training Tools

See Resources for information on  books, conferences,  trade magazines, and websites related to wildlife damage management.


ICWDM suggests contacting NWCOA or National Pest Management Association (NPMA) leadership and asking them to suggest a person who is:

  1.  outside of your potential service area, and
  2.  willing to allow you to ride with him/her for a few days to learn what is involved in the business.