ThatBiologist – Conservation Conversations

Fun fact, when I was designing the questions I wanted to include within the questions for conservation conversations I tested them a lot on my peers but also myself. To the point where I even wrote out a complete answer to each question. So if you were wondering what my answers to my questions about the life of conservationist were here you go:

IMG_1025As I start all of these off with an introduction I guess I should introduce myself. Hi my name is Laura, I am finishing off my masters degree on conservation. I love all things wildlife but have a particular passion for botany and the planty things. I’ve been writing here for a couple of years now as well as twittering in between and recently writing for the Woodland trust. You can find out the whole story on me in my about tab!

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

My favourite species is the venus fly trap. I adore botany and I love it when plants prove to be more than just green organisms. I love all the (often) hidden characteristics plants can have and venus fly traps are just spectacular. They have such sensitivity to the outside world and the adaptations they posses just to exist in nutrient depleted areas is outstanding. Personally I don’t see how any other species could beat it.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

I’ve loved nature ever since I could remember. I remember getting a copy of a book discussing how what we do as humans effects the world. It focused on climate change and I was horrified by what I was reading. Ever since then I knew I wanted to do something to help.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

How beautiful nature is in every single way. As well as the awesome power for nature to continue in the face of every adversity which I think is very admirable. That power and beauty combined just fills me with so much hope that it can and will continue. All I want to do is help that process.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

A job where I can practically help nature. I’m not fussy where I just want to do some good in this world.

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

Being told that a project I was working on won an international award and seeing the project continue to flourish years after I’ve finished working on it.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

I am desperate to see bioluminescence at work. I think it’s one of the most fantastical things in the universe and kinda makes me believe that magic is real.

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

Conservation is a long process and a team sport. There is no quick fix when the environment is damaged. Just because you recycle that water bottle does not mean you fix climate change but if everyone recycles more and does it for a long period of time it does have an affect. By working as a team we can make this planet a better place. (Looking back on this answer it seems even more true with Trump removing the USA from the Paris agreement. I have lots to say on this so just wait for another blog post.)

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

I’d make single use plastic products illegal. Water bottles, straws, plastic bags and those stupid 6 pack plastic rings are unbelievably damaging to nature and so pointless. If I could remove them forever I would do it in a heartbeat. (more on this soon)

Now for a little favourites quick round!

  1. Favourite sound?

The birds in the morning when the rest of the world is quiet.

  1. Favourite fact?

In October of 2014 Cards against humanity bought a 6 acre island and named it Hawaii 2 and it is now left to preserve the wildlife there. If only every card game did the same, I’m looking at you Uno.

  1. Favourite snack?

Chocolate – Specifically cold dark chocolate.

  1. Favourite word?

Brilliant

  1. Favourite curse word? 

Horse Sh*t

  1. Least favourite word?

Never. I was told once that I would never do well at university, here I am now nearing the end of my masters. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can never do something because of course you can. You can do what ever you want. Whether you should is another matter 😉

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

Buy a reusable water bottle and take it everywhere with you. It’s great for your body if you drink more water, it’ll save you money and it’s far better for the environment if you don’t buy the non-reusable ones. By taking one little step to being a better earth citizen you may find you want to make more of those steps.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my answers to these questions. There will be more guests in the future I promise!

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Dave Hemprich-Bennett – Conservation Conversations

11088231_10155348311470058_8464046797610362454_nHello and welcome to another episode of conservation coversations! I’m so happy to be welcoming my next guest. He’s a PhD candidate whos life kind of sounds like a dream come true to me. He’s studying conservation biology, specialising in the responses of tropical bats and their prey to deforestation. Dave Hemprich-Bennett lives half of his life in the forests of Borneo and the other in the UK! Here’s his responses to my questions.

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

I guess that would be Hemprichs Long-Eared bat, a bat named after my wife’s great-great-great uncle. It feeds mostly on scorpions, whose venom it seems mostly immune to. These bats have been seen eating a scorpion whilst the scorpion stings them in the eye, just keeping on chewing impervious until they’ve eaten it all. And then once that’s done? They just fly off to find another scorpion, to eat and get stung by all over again. That’s pretty badass. (I agree!)

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

I’ve always been fascinated by animals, being totally obsessed with them as a small child. I didn’t actually realise that a career working with them was an option until I got to university though: I had gone there to study environmental science, with had few specific career ambitions to do with it. During the degree I had the chance to go on an expedition to the Peruvian Amazon and study Caiman (basically South American Alligators) and realised that living in rainforest, working to understand and protect them would be an awesome life.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

I work in tropical deforestation, which can be a pretty emotionally draining subject area. One of my study sites is a controlled deforestation experiment, where we’ve been literally watching as rainforest gets logged, studying its effects. In part it requires a certain mental distancing from a specific area or issue, but as a conservation researcher there’s two general things I try to keep in mind..

1.We may not succeed in preventing all the things that we wish to stop, but we can at least stop some of them. Its unlikely that there will be an outcome worse than not trying at all, so lets do what we can and try to make the world a better place than it would otherwise be. If some wild areas remain, with some cool stuff able to live in them, we can hold our heads up high. But lets get to work and try to keep the world as healthy as we can.

2.If we fail, if all the cool animals and systems that we work with die, at least we understood them better before they went. This is a truly terrible consolation prize, but its one that makes a certain amount of sense to me. I’m really interested in Pleistocene megafauna, the huge ‘ice age’ animals that our ancestors saw roaming around the world thousands of years ago, but sadly went extinct before we were able to document them in anything more detailed than cave paintings and sculptures. We’re able to understand a lot about these animals from their remains, but there’s inevitably a lot that we’ll never know because nobody observing them was able to write it down. I see a melancholy parallel role to field researchers in this: I wish people had been able to document for us the animals and ecosystems that no longer exist. If our job only lets us do the same for future generations, that’s at least something.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

Oh gosh, this is a difficult question. I’ve had very little specific input in the direction that my career has ever taken in terms of place or species worked with: it’s all been a case of applying for the stuff I see that sounds interesting, rather than having a specific planned direction. Most of my work so far has been in tropical rainforest, I’d like to work in cloudforest somewhere: when rainforest grows up the slopes of a mountain it gets a lot cooler and wetter and can lead to some really unusual species evolving there, especially if its an isolated mountain. I’d love to catch bats somewhere like Mount Kenya, if any wealthy sponsors are reading…

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

Helping out on a macaw survey at dawn in the Amazon, we had to take our boat into an oxbow lake before sunrise to watch them leaving our roost. We got to watch a gorgeous sunrise over the water with river dolphins playing around us, monkeys looking down at us from the trees and macaws flying overhead, whilst several hundred waterbirds woke up in the trees around us to feed in the lake. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a beautiful view, or such a feeling of being surrounded by wonderful life. That’s a pretty special memory.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

I guess I’d love to see the northern lights. To find myself in a vast open space, looking up at an immense sky shimmering with beautiful colour? That’s definitely one for my bucket list, I really hope someday I get to see it

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

Its importance! We tend to think of conservation and care for the environment as a sort of luxury, something that we can jettison in times of hardship. This is pretty far from the truth: we rely on the world around us to live, from the air that we breathe and the food that we eat, to the products that we rely on for our everyday lives. The natural world provides it all and we need to take care of it for our own sakes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to go and live in a yurt in the woods, using only foods and items from our own private allotment (though if you want to do this, good for you I guess), but it does mean having a better worldwide ethos of trying to make sure that we leave to future generations a world that can support them as it has supported us.

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

The small-world, isolated way that so many peoples minds work. It can be tempted to only really care about the people and world directly around you, but there’s 7 billion of us now and like it or not we’re all connected in a phenomenal number of ways. Rather than building borders and celebrating our differences, lets maybe work together to try and make the world a better place for us all?

Now for some favourites!

  1. Favourite sound?

The sound of the Helmeted Hornbill calling. It’s a bird found in Southeast Asia that’s about the size of a swan, and makes the most absurd call, it sounds like somebody incoherently drunk attempting an impression of a kookaburra. They’re great.

  1. Favourite fact?

A scientist once published a paper on how he watched a male duck mating with the corpse of another male duck that had just flown into his window. That somebody not only watched that, but took detailed notes and wrote a paper on it still amuses me to no end.

  1. Favourite snack?

I’ve always been partial to crumpets. Versatile and they taste like childhood.

  1. Favourite word?

Arsloch. Its basically just the word ‘arsehole’ in german, but I think it sounds somehow much more pleasing

  1. Favourite curse word? 

I’d better make this an English one then, I’ll go with ‘fuck’. A bad motherfucking word that can be used to tell people what a fucker they are in so many fucking ways. Fuck you.

  1. Least favourite word?

I’ve never really had that tendency to find a word unpleasant, like in the way that people find the word ‘moist’ really horrible due something with its sound and meaning? That doesn’t bother me about any specific words really. So it would probably be something like one of the myriad unpleasant-hate filled words that humanity has invented to dehumanise other people. But I’d rather not list them.

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

Reduce the amount of meat that you eat, especially beef. I’m not asking for a full boycott and going vegetarian or vegan, though more power to you if you are. I try to only eat one portion of meat a week, with beef being an especially rare treat. The environmental footprint of meat is huge, with cattle being especially bad. If you can reduce the amount of meat you consume, you’ll be reducing your emissions and footprint of land use by a great amount, and if you live in the west there are plenty of meat-free options so it shouldn’t even be especially difficult.

Thank you to Dave for such an entertaining episode. I don’t know about you but this episode made me think and laugh out loud! If you want to hear more about the wonderful work he’s doing as part of his PhD and other witty bat talk then Dave is on twitter as @hammerheadbat.

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Alex Evans – Conservation Conversations

alex-evansToday I’m so excited to share another episode of conservation conversations. My guest today is completing his PhD at the University of Leeds in the energetic’s of animal locomotion. Alex Evans has been focusing on how birds and beetles fly. Something that I happen to think is pretty cool. Anyway here are his answers to my questions!

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

My all-time favourite species is unquestionably the secretary bird. As a large terrestrial raptor with long legs and fancy crest, the secretary bird is iconic throughout Southern Africa for hunting snakes and kicking their skulls in. I first saw a secretary bird at San Diego zoo about 7 years ago, and I was instantly fascinated by it. Since then, I’ve become a bit obsessed with them – I have a secretary bird on my phone wallpaper, my work desktop and I’ve even got a LEGO secretary bird on my desk watching me work at all times. (Stunning) There was some great research done by Steve Portugal last year on the force and speed of their kicks and it further confirmed how awesome they are. Unsurprisingly, I’m also a big fan of seriemas and their ‘terror bird’ ancestors, a group of giant prehistoric flightless birds that ran around South America gobbling up horses. I have a thing for big carnivorous birdies.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

From secondary school onwards, I knew that I wanted to get involved with the life sciences, largely due to many visits to natural history museums and many more David Attenborough documentaries. I started off doing my undergraduate degree in Biology, but switched to Zoology after the first year to focus on animals and went on to do an MSc in Biodiversity & Conservation. Following on from my MSc, my PhD project was initially an investigation into the ecophysiology of migrating birds, but has since developed into a wider exploration of how effectively animals can convert the energy from their food into physical movement. It’s become less focused on conservation and more focused on fundamental research, but I feel that the more we learn about how energy from the environment is utelised internally by birds for foraging, migrating, hunting or escaping predators, the more we can understand about their behaviour and ecology.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

There’s still so much to be done. Once I’ve finished my PhD, I know that I’ll have started to ask more questions than I’ll have answered, and that’s good motivation to keep exploring the field.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

Getting my first scientific paper published! I am just about to send a paper based on my MSc dissertation back to a journal following reviewer’s comments, so I’m very excited for that to go ahead! Fingers crossed!

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

I recently won an award for giving the best PhD summary talk at a research symposium organised by my funding body. It was so nice to feel appreciation for the hard work I’ve put into the last few years and it definitely felt good to share my research with people from outside the bubble of my department.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

There’s so many exotic locations and wild animals I would love to see first-hand, but there’s still loads to see here in the UK. I’ve never seen a live badger, largely because I’d usually rather be tucked up in bed when they’re out and about, but that’s an animal I would love to see here in the wild. For Christmas I got a book with the 100 best bird-watching spots around the world, so I may or may not be planning my honeymoon with a few of those in mind as well…

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

Everyone can do their small part to conserve the natural world. Making your garden hedgehog-friendly or building solitary bee hotels are two quick and easy ways you can improve the availability of habitats for local wildlife in a time when natural spaces and green corridors are dwindling.

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

I would put an end to any discussion that climate change is not happening. The fact that it has become a political issue is beyond absurd. It is happening, we’re causing it and we can all help to do something about it if we’re not too busy fighting over its existence. (I completely agree!)

Now for some favourites!

  1. Favourite sound?

When I finish up a plate of mac n’ cheese and think it’s all gone, then my wife says “there’s more in the kitchen…”. Pure music to my ears.

  1. Favourite fact?

Hmm, not sure if I have a favourite – but animal penis facts are always a winner. Echidna penises are like little trees, with one shaft and four heads, which they alternate between when bonking. Look them up, you won’t regret it.

  1. Favourite snack?

I love me a good cookie.

  1. Favourite word?

I always used to like ‘cornucopia’ but I don’t think I’ve had a reason to say it for years.

  1. Favourite curse word? 

I’m a fan of immature mashups like pissfart and shitdicks.

  1. Least favourite word?

Ugh, I know it’s not really a word but I can’t stand people saying “at the end of the day” to justify doing anything they want, it just grates on me.

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

I think the first and most important step is to inform yourself and don’t just rely on the news as your only source of information about the environment. There are plenty of great science websites, social media forums, blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos and many more forms of media that share the latest conservation discoveries and discussions. A lot of important conservation issues often go overlooked (take the EU referendum as an example) because people are unaware of the environmental impact of their choices.

Thank you so much to Alex for answering these questions. I feel like I now know all I need to about echnida penises! If you want to hear more from Alex and his tales of living that PhD life then I strongly recommend you following him on twitter at @alexevans91. Or you can find more of him at his blog Bird Brained Science.

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Sam Williams – Conservation Conversations

Today’s interviewee is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Zoology at the University of Venda, in South Africa. He studies the conservation ecology of large African carnivores and is currently developing a research interest in the ecosystem services provided by carnivores. As he told me One way of explaining his research is that he is trying to find out how carnivores help us and how we can help them. Here’s what Sam Williams had to say to my questions. IMG_3938

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

Duck-billed platypus, because it’s probably the weirdest animal I have ever seen. An egg-laying mammal with an electrosensitive (why not?) duck bill? Oh, and it’s venomous.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

I find it hard to imagine why most people would not want to get into conservation. I once gave a visitor from the UK the opportunity to help me bait leopard traps for collaring here in South Africa. He hated it, and left saying “I am so glad that I’m an accountant instead of doing this for a living”. (Getting him to help me shovel up maggot-ridden animal foetuses might have had something to do with it.) But to each their own – I am so grateful that I am not an accountant.

I got into conservation because it brings together my love of science with my desire to leave the natural environment in a better state than I found it, all while doing fascinating things in exciting places. I wake up in the mornings excited to start work, which is a feeling that not everyone gets to experience. I remember when I was little my mum advised me to find a job that I love, because it can be sad to spend so much of your life doing something that you don’t enjoy. Who doesn’t want to get paid to fly in a helicopter around African mountains, radio tracking large carnivores that you collared? Accountants, I suppose…

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

Although I love working in conservation, it certainly comes with its fair share of challenges. Here are just a couple of things that I wish present me could have told past me about my experiences, when I was deciding to commit to a career in conservation biology. It’s hard work and the pay isn’t great. You will work long, long hours, weekends and public holidays, and despite earning a PhD you will get paid fraction of what you could have earned if you had dropped out of school and stayed at home working at McDonald’s. It does occasionally cross my mind that future me will kick present me when I can’t afford a space holiday because I have no savings or pension, and live in a bin.

But despite the challenges, it’s really not difficult to find inspiration to keep going as a conservation biologist. I cannot think of a more rewarding career. You can have a very real, very much needed impact on the world. You could help to prevent a species from going extinct. You could help people to live in harmony with nature. You could find out something about the way the world works that no one knew before, and share that knowledge with others to build upon. Not only is the endpoint incredibly rewarding, but the journey along the way is so much fun. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it has been to live out of a hammock in the Indonesian rainforest, studying macaque ecology. To collect behavioural observations on howler monkeys in the cloud forests of Honduras. To track cheetahs, lions, wild dogs and hyaenas in Zimbabwe. To get married and start a family while living in a tent on a nature reserve at the peak of a mountain range in South Africa, while camera trapping elusive leopards. I even find working at my computer exciting – I still get a thrill out of running an analysis and finding out something new.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

I don’t know about next, but it would be fun to one day discover a new species to science. The list of species that share the planet with us is going down every day. To grow that list by one, even though the species has probably been around for quite some time without us identifying it, I think would somehow feel quite satisfying.

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

I once met a man who told me that he (illegally) killed an average of about a dozen leopards each year on his small farm in southern Africa, in order to protect his cattle from predation. The reason he was telling me this was because he had recently shot a leopard that I had collared, and he demanded that I paid him if I wanted to get the collar back. He refused to let me do anything to help him keep his cattle safe, and he continued to kill leopards. I worked hard to turn around this inauspicious start to our relationship, and four years later he finally agreed to let my colleagues place a livestock guarding dog with his herd, which has been shown to be extremely effective at protecting livestock from predation. I ran a half-marathon to raise funds to buy and care for the dog, and as I write this, the dog is protecting his animals. Seeing that someone so disinterested in engaging with conservation efforts can change their mind, and knowing how much this could benefit a declining population of leopards, was probably my career highlight so far.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

Watching snow monkeys bathe in volcanic hot springs in Japan was definitely one off the bucket list. One day I would love to see the northern lights. And the wildebeest migration in east Africa.

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

Conservationists need your support – see question 15 to find out how.

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

It would be nice if conserving the natural environment was a top priority for people and for governments, as humans and all other species depend on it to survive.

Now for a little favourites quick round!

  1. Favourite sound?

The sound of lions roaring and hyaenas whooping, heard through a tent wall

  1. Favourite fact?

Spotted hyaenas have a pseudo-scrotum and a pseudo-penis, through which they give birth.

  1. Favourite snack?

All the chocolate – me too!

  1. Favourite word?

Gargantuan

  1. Favourite curse word? 

Cunt nugget

  1. Least favourite word?

Yolo

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

Have smaller families. Eat less meat. Turn things off when you’re not using them. Ride a bike or catch public transport when you can, instead of driving. Recycle stuff and try to cut down on waste. Be sure to vote, and do it based on environmental issues. Make sure that politicians know that if they don’t make conserving the environment a priority, they will not be elected.

Thank you so much to Sam for all those inspiring words of wisdom! Sam is one of my favourite bloggers in conservation so its an absolute honour to have him on the blog. I’d strongly recommend following him on all of the social medias. Here are all his links:

Twitter: @_sam_williams_

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samual_williams/

ResearchGate: http://researchgate.net/profile/Sam_Williams

Blog: http://samandkatyinafrica.wordpress.com

Website: http://www.samualwilliams.com

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Becoming A Master: Time Flies

Week 9

I cannot believe how fast this term is flying by. This week has been crazy busy, it feels like its been busier than usual. I’ve had a meeting with my personal tutor, lectures galore, stats galore and a group meeting for my project! Now as you are reading this I’m in Germany! Madness and its likely to stay this way right up until Christmas as I have 4 assignments due between now and then.

Coping with a lot to do can be an interesting task. I know that for a lot of my friends in academia this is a busy time of year before we all power down for “a long winters nap”. So to remind myself and also to remind my very busy friends out there here is my three top tips of how to cope.

Number 1: To Do Lists Are Your Friends

I am a huge believer of the to do list. I try to have one for the week but I tend to write them daily too. Keeps you going and helps things from getting lost.

Number 2: Drink WATER!

And lots of it. Its easy to forget to do but your body needs it! I wrote a blog a long time ago about how important and amazing water is. So if you need a refresher its here.

Number 3: Schedule in Breaks!

You need to rest. You cannot keep going at a million miles an hour forever but if you’re like me and feel guilty when you do rest this is my trick. By scheduling in breaks you know that you’ve given yourself time to do the work you need to do.

Sorry this blog has been so short. It’s been a completely crazy week. Next week however I’m going to an evening to learn more about insects so I’ll be sure to report how that goes!

Take care!

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