So you want to build a career in the conservation industry eh? Maybe you studied Animal Science as a college course, maybe you’ve just finished a degree in Biological Science. Either way, the first thing I will say is this… prepare to be very very skint for a long time! Here are the three steps you have to take before you can even think about finding a foothold on the old career ladder…
- Pay to work.
Yes, sorry about that, but sadly since positions in the wildlife industry are so sought after and the funding for research/actual conservation is thin on the ground, a lot of organisations take advantage of this when it comes to their workforce. I highly recommend that if you do this, you make sure you are not paying a premium (£3000 a month, if you are a qualified individual, is not acceptable). My tip here is to go direct and try and find the smaller field research stations that really need your help (there you will actually get much more hands-on experience) or go to those linked to universities which could also be more valuable on your cv or for the next job.
- Work for free.
This is more than likely going to be your first serious role in field research or as a ‘staff’ member. This is where the employer will cover your ‘costs’, i.e. you won’t need to pay for your accommodation anymore, while you are out there and if you are lucky, you may be given food. Tip: this is quite a delicate role as you may find the line blurs between staff and volunteers in this field, remember not to let this new power go to your head, you were a paying volunteer once too.
- Get paid a tiny salary on top of your free accommodation.
This is, believe it or not, usually a managerial position. At this level, your food and accommodation are probably still being covered, but you will also earn a small wage packet on top. This may or may not help to cover your other expenses whilst you are out there (such as alcohol, food outside of the establishment, any gear you need to replace or any other social activity not classed as work). However, there is still a chance you will have to dip into your outside savings to help fund flights out or home. Tip: start saving money from a normal job bar/shop assistant type role before you go out so you can fall back on this.
After point 3, you should have a better idea of whether you want to work in education, research, guiding or rehabilitation and you will have gained enough experience and contacts to go it alone, in the big cutthroat industry that is conservation.
We are in a pretty interesting predicament right now, where the people screwing the planet up get paid a hell of a lot more than the ones trying to save it.
This leads to my second point, ‘corruption’. Once you are out there, you are going to find that there are two types of people in this world:
Type A: People who do things for the right reason on the basis that it’s right
Type B: People who do it for the glory/recognition they hope to gain from other humans
Sadly, you will find a lot of type B in points of power, both within the wildlife industry and the charity sector. You will learn how to recognise them quickly. The main thing here is not to be deterred by these people, but to hold onto your own motives for doing what you do. With so many huge environmental challenges, the world needs as many type A’s as possible right now, so try to keep a good network of type A friends for support. Tip: Don’t let the B’s grind you down!
One last piece of advice. A lot of people enter into this industry with the best intentions and high hopes. Bottle feeding baby seals or running around exotic beaches in a bikini may sound like the greatest selling points in the world, but you have to be prepared to go to work. And I really do mean WORK!
The hours you will be putting in, even at entry-level, go beyond anything you will ever encounter in any other industry. More than likely, you will be paying your bosses for the privilege of working your ass off 12+ hours a day/night, 7 days a week on a continual loop until there is a bad weather spell. You will be living far outside most peoples comfort zones, with lots of mosquitos and biting insects on tap, yet no other humans to blow off steam with for miles around. So if you encounter a lot of type B’s you have to be very tolerant. It’s also highly likely that you will be sharing a room/tent with multiple volunteers, the same people you have spent 7 days a working week with, so you need to be able to let any grudges go and maintain a positive attitude no matter who these people are or however much they’ve irritated you. Tip: hold onto your sense of humour.
However, all that said, if you choose to stick it out in the world of conservation/wildlife, I can guarantee that you will form some of the strongest friendships, have some of the greatest adventures you could ever imagine and feel a sense of drive and purpose in what you are doing in that it won’t matter who asks you when you will get a ‘real’ job. All that the other stuff… well that’s just character building! ;P
Good luck! Tip: go save the planet 😉
If you need any further inspiration on careers in this industry, head over to my youtube channel