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!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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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 – Ready, Set, Go!

Week 12

Hello!

I’m back after almost a month away! I can’t really believe it has been that long since I last updated you all on my masters degree so let me kick off with how last term ended. My last day of term finished with a presentation for my group project which went really well! So well done team if you’re reading this! Then our whole department went for our christmas do which was actually a talk from Chris Packham! It was extremely insightful as to what practical conservation can look like. He showed us some of his truly incredible photography.

Image result for chris packham photography

Then it was time for a well earned christmas break.. or not. Over the christmas break I wrote three assignments totaling at approximately 7,500 words and I started some new writing projects! My assignments were all handed in on Monday this week so fingers crossed they all pass through with flying colours. And with that a new term with brand new modules started!

So as for this week Monday started with a lecture and practical in Diatoms! These are fascinating little beasts and it felt so good to be back in the lab after so long away. I took a few pictures with my phone not that they show diatoms in the greatest detail. I was using a x1000 lens just to give you a scale of how small these guys are.

img_0495 img_0484

On Tuesday I had my first battle with GIS. Thats geographical information software. It’s a fantastic skill to have because with it you can build up maps and make links between well lots of different things. Anyway I really enjoyed the first session so here’s to a bright future with it! On Wednesday I had a lecture in marine conservation. I studied marine in depth in a module in my undergrad but this module seems to include more policy. Marine policy can be a little complicated so I’ll explain that in a future blog.

On Thursday I had a field trip that took us to a lake in North Hertfordshire. I spent 3 hours on some very cold tiny boats doing coring. This is when you take sediment from the bottom of a lake and from that you can find out what was living in it hundreds of years ago. It did rain down a lot that day but it was still great fun!

Then Friday was my 23rd birthday and I’ve had an amazing weekend celebrating just that! I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of BAM!

Happy Biologying!

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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6 in 60 – Number 6: Life In Colour

Hello! It’s another 6 scientific things in 60 seconds, three weeks on the trot aren’t you all lucky. Thanks to some inspiration from some pictures of some beautiful corals, this week is all about colour!

  1. Corals glow in an array of colours thanks to a fluorescent light. The light allows you to see the protiens that glow within the coral and the algae.mg22730380.100-4_800
  2. Chameleons rapidly rearrange crystals in their skin to change colour. The crystals reflect different wavelengths of life.1
  3. New evidence suggests that dinosaur eggs were likely a blueish green colour.
  4. Not exactly new news for me but the reason plants are green is due to a pigment called chlorophyll. It is found in high concentrations in the chloroplasts in plant cells.
  5. Not all plants are green! Some plants have almost black coloured leaves, although again this is due to the pigments within the plant.
  6. Men have a higher chance of being colour blind. This is thought to be as males have less rods and cones in their eyes.

That’s all for this week. Remember the 6 in 60 series comes around every Tuesday!

The Sources

Number 1 comes from an article in the new scientist and the beautiful photos have been taken by Oliver Meckles. Number 2 is another article written by Andy Coghlan. Number 3 is again brought to you by an article in the new scientist written by Jeff Hect. Number 4 came from my three years studying biology but nevertheless here is the wiki on chlorophyll for your enjoyment. Number five comes from this article. Number six comes from an article on discoveryeye.org.