Ok, this post is from a more personal point of view. I am one of the group that teaches the Wildlife and Conservation Biology degree at Deakin Uni. I am often asked why you got into what you did, what inspired you, and why on do take students to Borneo?
So here goes, I am going to try and explain why 🙂 In a strange way they are all interlinked. As a kid I just loved animals, I found them fascinating and was amazed by the diversity of them. Naturally I was told you need to be a vet. In reality this was the only obvious career path, from my parents perspective, that involved animals. So as a kid I spent my holidays working with the local vet, only to discover it was not for me. I will say it was devastating when I made this discovery. What was I going to do with my life?
It was not till some time later I was siting watching a National Geographic documentary on Borneo that I realised I actually wanted to work with wild animals. For many years I lived on a diet of National Geographic, David Attenborough and other documentaries and at school I immersed myself in biology. The strange thing about this all was this obsessive fascination with Borneo and tropical jungles.
I went to uni got a biology degree, then did a PhD in pest ecology working with rats. It was not until I got a job at Deakin teaching wildlife conservation that I suddenly had the opportunity to start working with wild animals. In more recent years I have been able to go to the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. I was not disappointed, they are amazing. I now take a group of Deakin enviro students to Borneo each year as part of one of our undergraduate units (SLE353).
There was one night a couple of years back when we were in Borneo doing field surveys with the Universiti Malaysia (Sarawak) that will stick with me forever. We were on the top of a hill called Bung Bratak, which is part of the traditional lands of the Bidayuh people of Borneo. We were helping to document species on Bung Bratak whilst living with a number of the Bidayuh people. One night we were out doing frog surveys. It was raining lots, it was dark and I was standing knee deep in water with one of the Deakin enviro students. We were both soaked to the skin and had been out doing surveys for hours. I remember turning to her and saying “Isn’t this amazing! We are standing in a swamp in Borneo catching frogs. I have dreamed of this all my life.” She was as excited as me, and I think both of us realised how privileged we were to be able to spend time in a Global Biodiversity hotspot.
It is a strange thing to think about how you end up where you are. From a passion for wildlife to standing in a swamp in Borneo catching frogs was a long trip. Now I get the joy of teaching students about wildlife, hopefully helping to foster their excitement as well. My main message to you all is follow your passion what ever it is.
As a footnote, a big thank you to National Geographic and David Attenborough for providing a good dose of science and inspiration.