Carnivore Zoology


Learn to explain differences in the biology of different species of carnivores; by describing the differentiating biological characteristics of the families and genera that fall within the taxonomic order Carnivora.

A course for:

  • Zookeepers and Wildlife Park staff
  • Conservation and Wildlife rescue
  • Biologists and Environment Managers
  • Anyone in the pet industry

A foundation for those new to industry, professional development to enhance knowledge or fill in knowledge gaps for others.


This course has nine lessons as follows:

Lesson 1. Taxonomy and Evolution

  • Distinguishing characteristics of carnivores
  • Principles of taxonomy
  • Modern science changes to taxonomy
  • Carnivore classification - 12 families
  • Case study - polar bear
  • Carnivore evolution

Lesson 2. Carnivore Biology

  • Introduction
  • Musculo skeletal system
  • Types of joints
  • Types of muscles
  • Digestive system
  • Excretory system -skin, kidneys, liver
  • Endocrine system
  • Nervous system
  • Reproductive system
  • Case study - Domestic cat
  • Respiratory system
  • Anatomical adaptations for feeding
  • Locomotion
  • Camouflage
  • Sight

Lesson 3. Carnivore Behaviour

  • Kinds of behaviour - reactive, active, cognitive
  • Learned behaviour -classical conditioning, operant conditioning
  • Physiology and behaviour
  • Senses
  • Range and distribution
  • Ecology
  • Longevity
  • Ultraism
  • Reproduction
  • Predation
  • Pathogens and parasites
  • Sustainable management
  • Mating and sexual behaviour
  • Social behaviours
  • Hunting behaviours
  • Territories

Lesson 4. Canines

  • Introduction
  • Atelocynus (short-eared dog)
  • Canis (dogs, wolves and foxes)
  • Cerdocyon (crab-eating fox)
  • Chrysocyon   
  • Chrysocyon (maned wolf)
  • Cuon (dhole)
  • Dusicyon (Falkland Islands wolf)
  • Lycalopex (culpeo, fox)
  • Lycaon (African wild dog)
  • Nyctereutes (raccoon dog)
  • Otocyon (bat-eared fox)
  • Vulpes (fox)

Lesson 5. Felines

  • Sub families
  • Anatomy
  • Digestive system
  • Panthera (Lion, tiger, leopard, Jaguar)
  • Neofelis (Clouded Leopard)
  • Pardofelis (Marbled Cat)
  • Felis (cat)
  • Prionailurus (Fishing Cat)
  • Leopardus (Andean Mountain Cat)
  • Case study - Tiger

Lesson 6. Bears

  • Introduction
  • Anatomy/
  • Dentition
  • Lifespan
  • Hibernation
  • Mating and reproduction
  • Living genera and species
  • Ursus
  • Helarctos(Sun Bear)
  • Melursus (Sloth Bear)
  • Tremarctos (Andean Bear, Spectacled Bear)
  • Ailuropoda (Giant Panda)
  • Case study - Giant Panda

Lesson 7. Aquatic Carnivores

  • Introduction
  • Odobenidae (walrus)
  • Phocidae (true, earless, or hair seals)
  • Otariidae (eared seals) (fur seals, sea lions)
  • Case study - Walrus conservation

Lesson 8. Mustelids

  • Introduction
  • Mustelidae family - Weasels, Baders, Otters
  • Genus Taxidea (American badger)
  • Mellivora (Honey badger)
  • Arctonyx
  • Meles (Badgers)
  • Eira (Tayra)
  • Gulo (Wolverine)
  • Martes (Martens and Fishers)
  • Melogale (Ferret badgers)
  • Iconyx (Striped polecat)
  • Lontra (New world otters)
  • Enhydra (Sea otters)
  • Lutra (old world otters)
  • Mustela Weasels, European Mink, Ferrets, Stoats and polecats
  • Others
  • Mephitidae family - skunks

Lesson 9. Other Carnivores

  • Introduction
  • Procyonidae (raccoons)
  • Ailuridae (lesser panda) 
  • Viverridae (civets, genets)
  • Herpestidae (mongooses - often considered part of Viverridae)
  • Hyaenidae (hyenas, aardwolf)

Course Duration - 100 hours

Course Aims

  • discuss the characteristics, classification and significance of carnivorous animals to man, ecosystems and environments.
  • describe anatomical and physiological features of carnivores, which differentiate carnivores from other types of mammals.
  • explain carnivore behaviour.
  • differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Canidae.
  • differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Felidae.
  • differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Ursidae.
  • differentiate different types of canine animals that are aquatic.
  • differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Mustelidae and Mephitidae.
  • differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic families not yet dealt with. 



You would assume carnivores eat meat, and that is largely correct - but not exclusively meat, and not always the same type of meat.

Terrestrial carnivores range in length from the weasel at 17 cm to the polar bear at 3.1 m length, and in mass. Male carnivores are commonly larger than females. The size of carnivores that predate individually on other individual animals is adapted to their prey size, but not so much with pack hunting carnivores. Most tend to be medium size animals -if too small they wouldn’t be big enough to overpower and kill prey.  

This diversification allows for feeding habits driven by carnivore size and potential prey. Of terrestrial carnivores, some are completely carnivorous (tigers, polar bears, cheetahs, dog packs), others are omnivorous (foxes, skunks, badgers, bears), filter feeder of krill (some seals), or even herbivorous (giant pandas). All aquatic carnivores live entirely on animal prey including krill (monk seals, Lobodon carcinophaga), shellfish and benthic organisms (walrus, Odobenus rosmarus), and the shark ratfish, flatfish, crab, squid, octopus, and southern elephant seal). 

Carnivores that only eat meat are termed obligate carnivores or hypercarnivores, species include many cats. Mesocarnovores such as racoons, coyotes and foxes normally have a diet consisting of about 50% meat and are omnivorous in their dietary habits. Carnivores that have diet that include less than 30% meat are termed hypocarnivores, an example is the Giant Panda. Adaption’s to their skulls and teeth reflect carnivore's diets. Some species such as the filter feeding crabeater seal have specialised krill-filtering cusp teeth, and walrus have greatly extended canines in the form of tusks.  

Carnivores have large oral cavities and a large mouth size to assist in grabbing prey. Face muscles are reduced to enable a large gape size, and the jaws have a simple hinge in plane with the teeth.

Carnivores are built with a large, bulky temporalis muscle.  This muscle, in all animal groups, assist in mastication, and the opening and closing of the jaws.  This large muscle makes up a large amount of their head, and allows the jaw movement to be strong and powerful.  The masseter and pterygoid muscles, also used in jaw movement, are reduced in carnivores. 

The teeth of carnivores are spaced to not trap stringy debris. Canines are greatly elongated for stabbing, tearing, and killing prey. A common distinguishing characteristic of carnivores is that most have characteristic enlarged teeth (i.e. fourth upper premolar; and first lower molar); which work together to effectively cut and shear off pieces of meat and tendon. Together these teeth are called the “carnassial pair”. Some carnivores such as bears, racoons and seals, all have secondary modifications to the “carnassial pair” making them different to the typical carnivore animal. All carnivores also have incisors (teeth in the front centre) for grasping and tearing with the third incisor, next to the canines, frequently enlarged and more conical shaped. 

Predators do not mix digestive enzymes in their mouths but swallow large pieces whole. They have simple digestive systems and stomachs that have a high acidity capable of easily digesting bone. Carnivores can consume large amount of meat with one meal, for instance tigers can consume up to 45kg of meat at one time from a deer kill, and consume about 50 deer sized prey each year.  Meat tends to digest quicker than plant matter, and with this the intestines of carnivores is much shorter.  Nutrient absorption occurs in the intestine so with a diet which consist of meat, there is no need to have long intestines.  

Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) which diverged from other bears 23 million years ago, have evolved a 6th thumb from their wrist bone for grasping bamboo, and their molars are smoother and larger than those of other bears to crush bamboo but their canine teeth remain large for defence.  Unlike Black Bears (Ursus americanis), Brown Bears (Ursus arctos) have adapted long, sharp claws which assist in digging dens and moving soil. 

Aquatic carnivores have a smaller size range. They have a greater maximum size due to their aquatic habitat demanding greater thermoregulation. Through larger body size with layers of protecting fat and being able to support high body mass. The smallest seals are about 1.5m in length and 68kg in weight, with the largest the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonine) weighing up to 4,000kg and 5.8 m in length. 


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PlanAust. PriceOverseas Price
A 1 x $781.66  1 x $710.60
B 2 x $416.96  2 x $379.05

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