5 tips on how to win a career in conservation
Nicola Clarke (26 years), Project Leader for The Great Projects, shows us how to go from jewelry artist from Brighton University to ape conservation in Borneo. Watch her recent video at Samboja Lestari in Borneo or read below her journey into a career in conservation and making a difference to local people, vulnerable places and endangered animals.
Nicola Clarke's journey - tribes, orangutans, gorillas and more...
There are not many jobs in the world where you get the opportunity to make an impact as an individual and effect real change, while simultaneously working on something you are passionate about and which allows for travel to exotic destinations. This amazing career is a career in conservation. A career in conservation however, is not just a job. It is a life choice. And more often than not, you end up going into it head first!
When contemplating a career in conservation, there are many things to consider as it is a highly competitive sector with sought after jobs. In order to make it in this industry you have to be determined and have the ability to go the distance.
A degree in conservation is not a bad place to start. It demonstrates your commitment and interest in animals, habitats and conservation. It is a good foundation from which to build a career in conservation. A degree alone however, is not nearly enough.
I have always dreamed of traveling and have always had a passion for animals. So it may come as a surprise that I graduated with a degree in three dimensional design and photography and went on to become a professional jeweler and photographer. My passion for travel and for animals however, eventually led me towards a career in conservation. But it took a lot of drive, passion, a little bit of thinking outside of the box and hard work to get there. Today, I am very happy being a professional Project Leader for a multi-award winning responsible tourism company which is leading the way in endangered animal protection tourism in the global south. As a Project Leader I get to work behind the scenes at wildlife centres around the world that are closed to everyday people. This is a privilege and I use my photography to capture these magic moments to share with everyone. Professional photography and visual arts will always be a passion for me. And the chance to be a wildlife expressionist works in paralell to my job of looking after projects in rainforests of Borneo or Uganda.
One of my earliest experiences that convinced me a career in conservation was the way forward was a volunteering trip I took across south-east Asia post graduation. In particular, I volunteered on an orangutan project with The Great Projects where I worked at a national zoo in Malaysia before travelling on to Borneo to visit animal rehabilitation centres there. The project concluded with my living in the remote Sarawak jungle in Borneo with a local community, tracking wild orangutans and working alongside the community on animal protection issues. The experience affected me deeply and I knew that I wanted to do more. I knew that the beautiful people, animals and places that I had been so privileged to meet and witness would not be there long if nothing was done to protect them. I made the decision to abandon a planned postgraduate course in art and focussed my energies on conservation instead.
My journey however, has not been all about travel and adventure. When I finally began my career in conservation it was from behind a desk, in an office, learning about conservation tourism and animal welfare. I enjoyed my time spent at the offices of The Great Projects, often doing sales work, as it gave me much needed knowledge and experience. It certainly paid off as I went on to consult on the creation of new volunteer programmes for The Great Projects. Then came the big one – I was given the opportunity to travel to Uganda to put together a gorilla volunteer project, which in itself was a remarkable and life changing experience. It enabled me to screen gorilla conservation films to over 10,000 people in Uganda over 2 weeks. This was with our partnership with GAFI. Today, my role at The Great Projects, amongst other things, is to design volunteer programmes as well as to run volunteer them in several different countries across the world.
Here are 5 tips that helped me get a job in conservation.
Tip 1: Get behind the scenes experience.
My advice to someone at the inception of a career in conservation is first, to give their time to learning about the industry. Gain some experience and put theory into practical use. Volunteering is an excellent way to do this. Volunteering gives you insight into what it would be like if you were to work and live as a conservationist. A conservation volunteering experience is a taster of what it would be like to live as an animal keeper or conservationist on the field. Conservation volunteer programmes take you behind the scenes of wildlife centres and get you some hands on work. For 2 weeks or 4 weeks you can immerse yourself deeply into a new way of life and choose if this life is the one for you.
Tip 2: Think outside of the box.
The industry is highly competitive and capitalising on your strengths is a good way to set yourself apart from the competition. For example, I used my qualification in photography to capture the things I had seen on my first volunteer programme. I compiled all the images into a book and had the book published. I did this to raise awareness on issues affecting orangutans and their habitats, and to raise money for the orangutans. My efforts resulted my being offered a place on an expedition to east Kalimantan in Borneo to set up new orangutan volunteer programmes, including building climbing platforms and ‘islands’ for the orangutans. The expedition was a joint effort between The Great Projects and Borneo Survival Foundation, and the new volunteer programmes being put together were aimed at providing support for the rehabilitation of some 225 orangutans.
Tip 3: Passionate about conservation.
Conservation work can be difficult and frustrating at times. You will often be working in environments that are fraught with cultural and political sensitivities. You will be faced with limitations and the changes that you seek can often be slow in coming. It is your passion that will see you through these times and keep you from throwing the towel in.
Tip 4: Be realistic in your expectations.
Everybody wants to work with the big animal species such as orangutans, gorillas, elephants and the like. Opportunities in areas of conservation involving these animals are hard to come by as they are highly saturated areas. Furthermore, these particular animals already have long standing experts on them. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with orangutans and gorillas, but I would not profess to be an expert on either species. There are many experts on these animals and who have spent their lifetime getting there. It would be difficult for someone like me to offer a unique observation or perspective on these animals. My advice would be to focus on an animal or an area of conservation that has yet to be studied and to become expert within that area. In doing so, you will gain the necessary kudos within the world of conservation and will eventually be able to go on to work with another animal species of your choice. Take Channy in Indonesian Borneo for example. A French man only in his twenties yet considered to be an expert on gibbons. He focussed on a species that had not been widely studied. His approach was to lobby the conservation world to redefine the status of the gibbon as a lesser ape to a great ape.
Tip 5: Do not give up.
It is worth it when you get there. For me, being part of The Great Projects and seeing theimpact that it has made via responsible tourism has been a rewarding experience. I have had the opportunity to be a part of amazing projects and expeditions. This July 2011 I will be participating in a gorilla expedition to Uganda, led by the eminent Ian Redmond OBE. Ian Redmond is a tropical field biologist and conservationist renowned for his work with great apes and elephants. He is best known for his friendship and work with Dian Fossey and their work with mountain gorillas. He has been involved in more than 50 documentaries on the subject, including introducing David Attenborough to gorillas that helped soften the attitude towards gorillas.
Finally, I wish you all the best of luck. If you would like to gain some conservation experience and have the opportunity to work with a wide range of animal species, or if you would simply like to find out more about some of the things that I have talked about here, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year Nicola is leading the tours in Uganda called the Great Gorilla Project and stewards the volunteer programmes at Samboja Lestari in Borneo where over 250 orangutans are in care.