Conservationist

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Chris, 54

What does a conservationist do?

As Coordinator of Conservation Partnerships for Zoos Victoria, Chris works with different organisations to manage conservation programs in South East Asia and Australia, the latter being mostly here in Victoria. "In south-east Australia, we are working on recovery programs for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, the Southern Corroboree Frog and the Orange-Bellied Parrott. All of these are either listed as endangered or critically endangered."

How did you become a conservationist?

"I'd always wanted to work with animals, ever since I can remember," offers Chris. "The Zoo offered a position as a junior or beginning keeper. So I was maintaining and cleaning exhibits and observing animals and taking notes."

Chris's involvement with the Zoo spans over thirty years. From his work as a keeper, he then became a curator, managing groups of animals at the zoos. During the 1980s and 1990s, Chris moved into conservation, realising the important roles that zoos can play in environmental issues.

What does a typical working day involve?

"My job is predominantly an office job now. I spend a lot of time responding to emails from Australia and overseas, especially the Philippines. Then I spend time working on projects and conservation strategy. At the moment we're also developing selection criteria for assessing new conservation projects."

Chris also spends time writing reports, contacting other interested partners and sourcing funds for new projects. "We can work with all sorts of groups. These can be other zoos, government departments at Local, State and Federal levels, non-government organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and Fauna and Flora International, community groups and schools."

What are some of the pros and cons of the job?

"Hmm, pros," thinks Chris. "Well you get a real buzz when you get a success...we recently funded a survey in a group of islands off the north of Philippines to follow-up on anecdotal reports of crocodiles there. An initial report has just come in from the survey team, advising us that they caught (and released) a Philippine Crocodile and took samples. We then had the opportunity to develop a conservation management plan for the island, including protection or potential reintroduction of crocodiles."

Chris enjoys his work but describes working in conservation as being on a rollercoaster at times. Sometimes, there can be bitter disappointment. "If a survey team can't go into an area, or if genetic samples are lost because of someone not doing their job," he says.

Chris also gets to travel to the Philippines about once a year and to Vietnam every two years to visit the project sites.

Are there any tips for getting a job as a conservationist?

"It's very, very difficult to be directly involved in conservation," advises Chris. "I did a science degree while working at the zoo but in the last fifteen years or so, zookeeping has become more recognised as a profession in Australia." Chris suggests TAFE-based courses in Applied Science, followed up with work in animal houses, labs and wildlife parks or zoos. "The skills and knowledge that you pick up being around animals is applicable across the board... you need to get as much experience and as broad a range of experience as possible."

Chris also suggests part-time or volunteer work in national parks, local councils, wildlife shelters, catteries, and farms or with university researchers. "Be persistent about applying for positions; being front of mind with a potential employer can make a difference."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).