I'll tell you this now. Its not what I thought it was going to be.
I had the stirrings of wanting to work in wildlife conservation from a relatively young age. I first heard about this as a career choice at the age of 13 whilst watching a wildlife documentary. It was a lightbulb moment. You could actually get paid to frolic with wildlife? And help them at the same time? As a deep animal and nature lover, my fate was set.
I had a very specific goal at this age. I wanted to travel to Africa and cuddle elephant orphans for a living. I'll admit, this became a tad more realistic over time. As much as driving around the African savanna in a land rover sounded like an absolute dream, my heart whispered that wildlife need me here, in my Scottish home. So here I stayed. There may be no elephants, but I find our native creatures just as enchanting. I've written a bit more about what I do now here, but today I thought I would share the top 3 pros and cons in this industry that I have encountered during my career.
Lets start with the bad news first -
Money - conservation is unlikely to make you rich
Ah the money question. Inescapable and an important factor to consider. Conservationists typically don't earn a huge salary. It varies within the industry, with ecological consultants often earning more than those working for a charity, for example. In fact, often conservationists end up working for free. Most conservationists I know started out with some unpaid volunteering, in order to get the relevant experience often required for paid positions. Some organisations even ask you to pay THEM to volunteer. These are often the glamorous placements in exotic countries, many seemingly involving turtles. I did over a year of unpaid volunteering in total. Almost of all of this with the RSPB, which worked out as this is now the charity I work for. So keep your expectations realistic and, depending on your circumstances, you may have to work in perhaps less exciting jobs in the meantime to drum up the funds. I waitressed for seemed like a lifetime!
This is not much of a surprise in some ways. At least on the surface, conservation sounds like a dream career. However, in the UK at least, there aren't a huge number paid positions. A full time paid permeant contract is like gold dust. There tends to be a lot more seasonal positions, short term contracts where monitoring help is required during wildlife breeding seasons. This lack of security and constantly applying for new positions can put some people off. Quite rightly. But this flip side to this is that this can result in a smaller number of people to compete with if you are willing to stick it out...
Its hard work
Wildlife conservation is full of unsociable hours. Everything revolves around wildlife timings. They can be inconsiderate buggers. My spring consists of getting up at 4am to monitor capercaillie. I have done many a dawn count and also stayed up to the early hours tracking nocturnal birds. Surveying can involve long days in all weathers. This can be sat in one position for hours on end, or walking miles over tough terrain, all with the real expectation that there is a good chance to won't find what you seek. The work can be physically challenging and also very unglamorous. I spent an entire summer being covered in seabird poo with no showers. It is not one for the faint-hearted.
The great outdoors is your office
Getting to play outside on a regular basis is one of the biggest pros for sure. Its an element to this line of work that attracts new conservationists who cannot bear the thought of a 9-5 office job. Having such a unique offices can lead to rich experiences. Being out and about in nature means that two days are never the same. Although my focus is always capercaillie when I'm out, I'm thrilled when I encounter other wildlife going about there business. I have fond memories from last survey season of gazing up at some crossbills having their lunch as the spring sunshine warmed my face. Moments like these make me question why I'd ever do anything else.
Working alongside fellow wildlife nuts
I know, working with people is not always top of the list of attractions to this career path. Some want to work with wildlife so they can avoid people entirely! However, as I found early on, the enthusiasm of other conservationists is infectious. In a career that is rife with depressing stats, sometimes it is the people working alongside you that can lift you up. I'll never forget that feeling when I first started volunteering. A feeling of coming home. You are not the only weird bird person in the room anymore!
That alluring feel-good factor
Saving the best until last. The reason why I entered this career and the reason that I've stayed. That desperate need to help this earth. At first, I'll be honest, I didn't feel like I was making much of a difference. Spending endless hours fixing fences or cleaning hides didn't exactly feel like assisting the cause. However, as I've progressed, I am now in the position to make a real difference for a species. It can be intimidating. Being the only person working full time to save this species in the UK, which is teetering on the edge of extinction, is pressure. A big responsibly, yet I wouldn't have it any other way.
That's it, I hope this insight is helpful for those of you perhaps considering this career path. If you haven't been scared off, I have written my 5 essential tips on how to successfully get into this field here.
I may have come a long way from aspirations of elephant cuddles, but I am grateful for my 13 year old self who dared to dream big. I could never of imagined where this would take me. What a life.