Careers in Conservation – the long way around

Wendy Collinson, EWT’s Wildlife in Transport Manager, wendyc@ewt.org.za

In my previous life, I was a physical education teacher at the Robert Clack School in the east end of London, United Kingdom, for 15 years. But I knew I needed a change and had dreams of working in Africa. And so, in 2005, I left to pursue a change of career in South Africa. A whole 17 years later, I am still living my African dream.

After some travelling, I spent six years working with large carnivores in the South African bush, firstly through Global Vision International (www.gvi.co.uk) and then with the Endangered Wildlife Trust. I worked alongside other researchers on carnivore species fitted with radio-tracking collars, which allowed us to follow them closely from the safety of our vehicle. Our goal was to better understand the animals’ movements and behaviour. A typical day would start just before dawn when we would start to track one of the collared animals until we found them. In some cases, this could go on well into the night if they were in hard-to-reach areas.

After six years of being involved full-time with carnivore research, I moved on to a new project in which I examined animal roadkill rates and the effects of road mortality on biodiversity in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (northern Limpopo). Studying roadkill might not sound very appealing (OK, at all appealing), but it’s important to know which species are getting killed on our roads and in what numbers. This project led me to a Master’s degree in Zoology through Rhodes University (based in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape, South Africa). A far cry from my previous degree in Education, with Dance and Art as my two main subjects!

I am now employed by the EWT’s Wildlife and Transport Programme, whose headquarters is in Johannesburg. I live near Durban but travel to Johannesburg to check in with the head office once every few months. The Wildlife and Transport programme looks not just at the impacts of roads on wildlife, but the whole transport sector – bird strikes at airports, increasing human safety, and train collisions with wildlife on the railway lines.

For more stories of how our staff members found their way to fulfilling careers in conservation, check out some videos we have pulled together here.