Wildlife and the great outdoors are my passions — the beacons drawing me to a career in wildlife veterinary medicine. I have this picture in my head of my future self on countless adventures through forest or mountains or desert, saving the world’s precious endangered wildlife. Looking back on this idyllic little daydream, I realize that other people don’t really appear in it, or if they do, they exist on the edges, standing in the shadows of the natural beauty. It’s not that I don’t like people, but I am somewhat of an introvert, and working with people has always ranked below working with animals on my priority list.
Conservation is about persuading people that action is necessary, convincing them to genuinely care, becoming aware of cultural differences, and putting personal struggles aside to maintain a friendly, respectful attitude.
But if there is one big lesson I learned while doing field work in Madagascar this summer, it’s that conservation takes people skills. Seriously… it’s all about cooperating, communicating, respecting, and forming relationships with colleagues, superiors, and community members. Of course, this summer had its shining moments of immersion in nature, such as when I spotted the majestic, critically endangered fish eagle perched in a tree, or examined those fascinating fosa paws up close, or gazed at the Milky Way splashed across the sky. But those precious moments would never have been possible without the expansive web of people who make Team Fosa work — the researchers who conceived the project, the donors who made it financially possible, the Malagasy government and park service who welcomed us (or tolerated us), the hardworking women’s collective that sheltered and fed us, and of course the American and Malagasy students who woke up at sunrise and got their shoes on the trails every day.
Field work does demand a deep, personal love for wildlife, and a desire to spend one’s life outdoors. But more importantly, conservation is about persuading people that action is necessary, convincing them to genuinely care, becoming aware of cultural differences, and putting personal struggles aside to maintain a friendly, respectful attitude. It is tough sometimes, especially when you are sitting at dinner exhausted, caught in a crossfire of mosquitoes and suicidal moths (stop landing in my food please), and just want to high-tail it into the safe warm solitude of your tent, but instead you have to smile, eat your ten-thousandth spoonful of rice, drink the THB that keeps magically refilling, and engage yourself in lighthearted conversation with your equally exhausted team members.
Despite the difficulties, however, the moments I spent interacting with the members of Team Fosa stand out as the highlights of the summer — something that I, the animal-loving introvert, did not see coming. I taught everyone a card game that crumbled the language barrier and had us laughing for hours, I sang a duet in Malagasy that drew cheers from an elated crowd, I watched as a Malagasy schoolgirl taught me how to draw a flower in the sand with a stick. I could fill pages with all the valuable, hilarious, memorable interactions I had. After this first experience with field work, I feel more compelled than ever before to become a wildlife veterinarian, and my vision of my career has been altered for the better. I now recognize that working with people is a central pillar of conservation work, and I look forward to the fulfilling relationships waiting in my future.