Melissa is the Project Manager of the Perhentian Turtle Project Hi, I’m Melisa Chan. I am the project manager for the Perhentian Turtle Project (PTP) after working as a PTP…
We want to share with you what we’ve learnt about conservation career paths. ‘What are the different types of conservation?’ and ‘How do you become a wildlife conservationist?’ are some of the most commonly asked questions from aspiring conservationists who volunteer on our conservation and community programs. Chances are, you’re asking similar questions, so here’s our shot at giving some advice:
Wildlife Conservation as a career is consistently growing
If someone says the words ‘conservation career’, most people picture a practical conservationist or ecologist out in the field. Field work and ecology are still going strong, but there are now other sectors that are expanding. Here are just some of the other career paths that conservationists take…
A rise in environmental awareness has driven people’s desire to travel more responsibly, which has in turn led to growth in the wildlife voluntourism industry. Here there are plenty of opportunities to raise the environmental awareness of tourists, get them involved in conservation work and drive behaviour change.
There’s increasing pressure on companies to act responsibly, not only from their customers, but also pressure groups and investors. Not to mention the regulations they have to comply with. Sourcing paper products from vulnerable rainforest, or using minerals that have been mined in a way that destroys coral reefs and forests and injures miners are just a couple of examples of the need for businesses to change their ways. There are great opportunities that come with operating businesses more sustainably, from saving money by using less resources, to standing out from the competition. The good news is that companies have started to see these opportunities – meaning that roles in conserving biodiversity and protecting the environment are not restricted to environmental NGOs and charities, but also arise within corporations. Perhaps working for a large company implementing a responsible sourcing strategy appeals to you?
Then there’s the role that those working in government play in conservation – devising environmental policies, writing legislation and enforcing regulations. In addition, there’s the academic route where your job is to research ways to advance conservation. The list goes on and with all this choice, the best way to find out the path that’s right for you is to explore.
The best way to pick your conservation career path is to volunteer
I’ve been speaking with our past conservation and community interns and one thing they all have in common is that volunteering has helped them get to where they are today. They cannot stress enough the importance of experiencing different organisations and roles to understand what you’re suited to. ‘What are my strengths?’ and ‘What field of conservation do I want to get a career in?’ are questions that can only really be answered once you’ve experienced a few different opportunities. Once you know what you like, you can get the skills to stand out. Another great reason to volunteer is to get to know different organisations and their staff – this is especially helpful when not all jobs are advertised.
Let’s hear from one of our previous interns and how his experience made his career!
‘Words cannot describe the first time you lay your eyes on a Tiger’s pug mark.
You may have seen it many times in pictures or in documentaries. It’s still pretty impressive.
But to have one right there in front of you, with the print so deeply embedded in the dirt leaves you speechless.’
– Chris Iverson, past Intern with Ecoteer.
This is Chris, who, like many other conservationists, was first unsure of the route he wanted to take in his career. Through volunteering with tigers, elephants and much more, he found his passion and is now an experienced project manager conserving elephants in Cambodia. You too can find your dream job.
What were you doing with Ecoteer?
“I was part of an amazing conservation project, where I collected pugmark data, animal pictures and GPS coordinates to build a picture of what wildlife was where in the forest. Then I ‘d report the sightings and coordinates to an NGO, which would in turn lobby the government to stop them mining and logging in these areas. I also ran educational jungle trekking for volunteers. Community work included working with Ecoteer’s Community Centre in the local Orang Asli village. Here I worked with the Batek children teaching English and extra- curricular activities.”
What skills did you gain and how did this experience help your career?
“I gained crucial experience in data collection, entry and handling, using GPS coordinates and google maps and setting up camera traps. I also built up skills in reporting to NGOs. As well as building up skills, I spent time gaining experience out in the forest. I learnt group management skills when taking volunteers jungle trekking, as well as how to convey conservation information and knowledge to volunteers.”
What are you doing now?
“I’m a Project Manager at the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia. It offers leading ecotourism projects maintaining the health and rehabilitation of captive elephants. Most worked in the logging industry or trekking tourists around, we put them back into semi wild environments where they re-learn their natural behaviours. We also work with an indigenous group – the Bunong community. We secured funding to go towards a land entitlement program so tribes become owners of the land and also receive health care and education. We also sponsor forest rangers and provide a salary, food and uniform so they can go to the forest and deter and catch poachers.”
What skills are needed for your job?
“Leadership skills, being comfortable out in the wilderness and remote environment and the ability to keep a cool head and be approachable.”
What is your advice to others starting their career?
“Try and gain varied voluntary experience in different areas of conservation, to know which area you want to get into and try and volunteer as much as you can. You don’t always need to go to university to get a conservation career – I didn’t. It depends what kind of role you’re after, but don’t try and skip the field experience. Volunteering can be expensive, but it is free to volunteer with the RSPB – I volunteered with the RSPB gathering data.”
Don’t leave now. There’s more!
There are many questions still to answer – and we’re just getting started. That’s why we will be creating a Conservation Careers Guide. Whether you’re a university student, in work and looking for a career change or are studying A levels, this guide is for anyone who wants to explore conservation as a career. The guide will contain chapters on the different sectors you can work in, the kind of roles that are out there and the skills needed to fill them. We’ll help you think about what kind of job your personality is best suited to, and you’ll hear from conservationists who’ve made it and can tell you what their job is like, how they got there and the best and most challenging parts of what they do. Each week we’ll be creating a blog that touches on each chapter. To receive this in an email update, click here to subscribe. You can then download the full guide once published. It’s all free! If you know anyone else looking for a conservation career, then share the guide with them, too!
We’re curious to know what you think. What challenges do you face in deciding on a conservation career path? What would you like to see in the career guide? Please let us know by emailing email@example.com.
Finally, if you’re after a conservation or community volunteering/internship opportunity, check out Malaysian Wildlife’s conservation projects, as well as opportunities with Ecoteer.
What are you waiting for? Go chase down your dream!