Fresh out of university after four years studying ecology, zoology and conservation genetics, I was well and truly ready for an adventure.
I wanted to book a plane ticket, pack my bags and head out the door as soon as possible.
But two things were stopping me. Firstly, money. Spending four years studying doesn’t mean you’re exactly raking in the cash. Secondly, when I got back and started looking for jobs, what would an employer think of a recent lengthy, self-indulgent holiday?
Then a solution came to me:
Why not combine some adventurous traveling with work experience?
Conservation is a very competitive industry. There are a lot of passionate people (a great thing), but not as many jobs (not so great). Extra experience is always a bonus. Satisfying my travel bug while making myself more employable sounded like a win-win situation to me.
After some intensive googling I decided to apply for a research assistant position with Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, which I was offered! Soon enough I was setting off to spend three months living in the jungles of Madagascar!
Me with a researcher in Madagascar
This turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done. I lived at a research station in a little village called Kianjavato with another research assistant, some local workers and researchers.
When I first arrived it was like something out of a dream. Compared with arid Australia, where I live, everything was just so damn green!.
Conditions were basic – tents, bucket showers and rice for every meal – however, I instantly fell in love with the place.
My work was to collect behavioural data on two species of lemur – Greater Bamboo, and Black and White Ruffed.
1) Bamboo lemur with baby and 2) black and white ruffled lemur
We would trek at an alarming pace through the dense jungle with our local guides, locate our lemurs, then follow them for the day, recording data as we went.
It was unbelievable. It’s hard to describe how special it is to spend every day with these incredibly rare, noisy and charismatic little creatures.
The work was very physically challenging, but so worth it. You can read more about my experience here (emma-matthews.org) if you’re interested.
Going on holiday for an extended period of time is expensive!
If you can find a program that covers your meals and lodging (or even better, provides a stipend/salary) it’s a great way to make your holiday savings stretch further without chewing up your budget on hotels and food.
Although you’ll most likely stay in one place, you’ll be able to stay for longer, and really experience life as a local.
How many people can say they’ve spent three months chasing lemurs through the jungle?
Not only can a conservation trip be a great personal experience, it is also a fantastic thing to have on any CV, no matter what your field. Working for a small NGO in an isolated location showcases a whole bunch of transferable skills that employers love.
If, like me, you’re looking to enter the conservation/environment/wildlife area of work, doing something like this allows you to jump straight into it and do something you know is going to make a difference right away.
It acts as a taster for all the best bits of your potential jobs in the future.
A lot of the time these kinds of trips are a good eco-friendly alternative to regular travel.
On top of the obvious conservation benefits, you’ll likely be flying less, and if you’re living in rustic conditions you might well be having less of an environmental footprint than you would at home!
To be able to say I spent three months working on a project which is making a real, tangible difference to critically endangered animals is something I’m really proud of. What’s more, that field experienced helped land me my next adventure – sea turtle research in Malaysia!