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How do I get started with big cat conservation?

Discussion in 'Wildlife & Nature Conservation' started by Felion, 22 Oct 2019.

  1. Felion

    Felion Member

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    I have a burning passion for felines – lions in particular – and am filled with constant dread at the blight they face.
    I am putting my money where my heart is, but that simply doesn't satisfy me, I want to dedicate my life to big cats!
    I want to help them with my own arms and legs!

    I have reached out to various organizations that run campaigns related to big cats, but (even though I put a lot more polish into these attempts at contact than went into this forum post) nobody ever responded to me.

    Please, does anyone know any tidbits of info or where else I could write to?

    I'll shovel **** as long as (some of) it's pantherine **** xD.
     
  2. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    In regards to the messages you have sent to organizations I think its important to bear in mind that lot of organizations that are involved with keeping captive big cats (zoos, sanctuaries, conservation NGO's) will be being regularly inundated with emails , social media messages and letters from people with similar passions for big cats to those you have.

    This means that these places and their staff either through institutional arrogance or some other factor may have an attitude of : "Oh sure, another kid who wants to work with lions and tigers , **yawn**" etc. Conversely they may have just reached a saturation point in terms of responding to enquiries for jobs or volunteer work with big cats and just dont bother replying anymore.

    Because working with these kind of animals is such a highly desirable job / hobby you will likely face a huge amount of competition (you will anyway in any side of conservation or zookeeping work because this is unfortunately what is encouraged and uncritically supported in this field much to its detriment) and so you should fully expect to encounter these kind of irritations and negativity.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that if you do succeed in getting a volunteer placement working on some level with big cats then you may find yourself being overworked and underappreciated. Because you are expendable and ultimately there will always be another kid who comes along after you who has the same desire to work with big cats and willing to "shut up and shovel sh*t".

    If you are considering working as a "volunteer" in "conservation" of big cats abroad (or indeed in sanctuaries) then be very careful and discriminating in what organization or NGO that you decide to go with. It goes without saying that you should do extensive background research before making a decision as the sad truth is there are a lot of places in South Africa and Africa in general which capitalize on young men and women's passion for big cats by offering "volunteering" opportunities shovelling sh*t and bottle feeding lion or cheetah cubs which are not of conservation value, or in the case of lions, destined to die in canned hunting or to live their lives in roadside zoos or menajeries which dont do anything at all for conservation.

    Ultimately I would strongly suggest that you try to adjust your expectations and look beyond solely working with big cats and instead make your general goal to work within conservation with diverse taxonomic groups or in conservation (whether ex-situ or in-situ & species or ecosystem ) as a whole. Believe me , you will contribute much more to conservation in this way.

    Finally, forget about big cats for a minute, consider the smaller species which comprise the Felinae subfamily , how many small cat species are endangered and in dire need of conservation interventions ? Moreover take look at how little is known about some of these species (the bay cat ,Andean cat , marbled cat, black footed cat , African golden cat, etc.) and consider how much research is needed with these beautiful animals. Big cat conservation is a well trodden, crowded and highly competitive path (cut throat in fact) , why not instead make it your goal to contribute to the conservation of some of the smaller felids ?
     
    Last edited: 22 Oct 2019
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  3. Felion

    Felion Member

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    While it's not hard to imagine that there would be many people willing to work with big cats, it's quite difficult to "see".
    Progress isn't proportionate to people's passion, and so it's impossible for me to accept that there's "enough" people, because the efforts themselves are never enough.

    I am painfully aware of canned hunting, but thanks, it cannot be mentioned enough.


    Owch, that physically stung to read. I am certainly not able to do that.


    I'm definitely underinformed about all of these species, and anything feline I can offer some real passion for. Rescuing housecats also felt rewarding, and had many treasured moments, but I always feel my gaze wander to those being actively wiped off the face of the earth.
    Therefore, the species you mentioned are also ones I desire to help, and frankly, helping research and treading conservation ground that not many have before sounds amazing.

    So this is something that I might indeed offer myself for, but it won't change the end goal.

    For me, helping was never about altruism. It's self-serving.
    I am in pain when I see something I care about slowly vanish, I find happiness in making a change in contact with beings I love.
    Unfortunately that means that I don't choose what my heart latches onto... and it's primarily Lions, more than the notion to contribute.

    I hope you aren't too disappointed in me, after all, you did know you were offering a backup plan.
    I seriously do like that backup plan though and will dive into the topic during my next research session.

    Most of all, though, I'm happy to have been heard and responded to, a nice change of pace xD
     
  4. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Well I hope I haven't offended you with how frank the post was , but I wanted to communicate to you what is generally speaking the reality of conservation work.

    I am not disappointed in you nor your stated goals and I would like to encourage you to keep with your dreams of conservation work (whether zoo or otherwise). However, I do think it is important / essential to recalibrate and reframe those goals and to acknowledge wider realities.

    To see the people who would be your competitors in working with big cats is very simple. Simply take a look at the keepers (volunteers or paid staff ) at a zoo. That said zoo work is by comparison much easier to get into but if you are academically inclined then talk to undergraduate biology students about their goals or take a look a any of the PhD student profiles of a conservation biology institute.

    If you do the latter , you will invariably hear people tell you that their dream is to work with lions or tigers , some of them will succeed in this (particularly those who come from wealthy or well connected backgrounds or those who are exceptionally talented at kissing ass and brown nosing ) while a great many sadly will not. Either way if you go for the academic route you should expect to have to compete with them at every level and as I've already mentioned it gets cut throat and really very nasty.

    If you get into the fieldwork / ex situ based conservation of lions whether in the Gir forest in India or one of the many regions where they can be found in Africa things get even more complicated. Much of the conservation efforts of big cats like lions , tigers and jaguars heavily involves being engaged with local communities and mitigating human wildlife conflict. This means working much more with humans than the cats themselves and it demands the ability at all times to empathise with some of the poorest people on earth whose wealth is often the same livestock that lions kill (in some cases the people themselves may be killed by lions).

    These same people will typically hate lions as vermin and likely also dislike and characterise you as someone from the affluent first world who does not give a damn about their welfare but only cares for that of lions. They will express as much and sometimes rudely and with hostility. In such a scenario the ability to speak or understand a language spoken locally such as Gujarati or Swahilli will be critical as will your ability to comprehend and integrate within the local culture.

    Often you may find yourself having to sit for long periods of time with these people and listen to both their viewpoints and grievances / anger and throughout all of this it will be critical that you not raise your voice , remain impartial, not show any behaviour considered to be rude in local customs and to come up with solutions to their problems and concerns almost like an anthropologist or social worker. There would certainly be times when you would question and have serious doubts about whether you are working with lions or human beings.

    Moreover, even if you succeed one day in securing a temporary truce between the local population and large carnivores things will always be in flux and an uneasy coexistence. Sometimes people will kill or injure the lions and cause them pain. If this happens you will have to swallow / bottle any anger or bitterness you feel and continue to play the role of a peacemaker.
     
    Last edited: 23 Oct 2019
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  5. Felion

    Felion Member

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    The latter case sounds like something that would match my personality pretty well. I've practically got "peace" written on my forehead (no wait, not in a hippy way... although....)

    I have watched quite a few videos and some documentaries about these interactions between conservationists and the local communities, and had a particular look at AfriCat after Kevin Richardson showcased them.

    I also have an interest and affinity towards learning languages.

    I do care more about the animals in this case, so they would be right, but until now, any hatred that I've felt in my life, I was able to break down into its root: A sadness or pity towards the circumstances surrounding individuals, even including ignorance and the inability to see certain aspects of the world which I treasure.
    Often these are amazing people by their own right, and getting along should in most cases be even a pleasant experience, I believe.

    That said, if someone were to break an agreement that me and my team would've had worked hard towards, and kill a cat that I knew to some degree...
    Without a doubt, it would be tough.

    My tranquil aura that people sometimes wonder about has a rather lame origin... I just don't care much about most things in the universe, and am hopelessly nihilistic (I find it empowering).
    Until it's about felines. . .

    At the end of the day though, any such happenstance would be better than not to have interfered in the first place.

    Thanks for having me think all this through once more, cheers!
     
  6. MRJ

    MRJ Well-Known Member

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    I have to endorse the comments in this email. From what I understand the issues with lions are:
    • Maintaining and expanding protected areas
    • Reducing cat/human conflict
    • Restricting poaching and the trade in cat parts.
    Much of the conservation work in these areas takes place from behind a desk. The rest basically involves working with humans on the ground. The important conservation work in this field can be done without ever seeing a lion.

    If you want an opportunity to work with lions there are plenty of opportunities for that in South Africa for a price.

    If you want to work in conservation learn your trade and go where the need is.

    Speciesism in conservation is a serious problem. If memory serves me right of eight orangutan sanctuaries in Borneo only one works with other species as well. The issue is that the sanctuaries can only get funding for work with orangutans because these are the glamour species that get all the publicity.
     
  7. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Brilliant comment MRJ.

    I would add to what you have already said here that the majority of paid "volunteer" / "internship" placements in South Africa or in other parts of the world such as Belize are largely ******** scams that don't contribute anything to conservation and also help to fuel the phenomenon of well meaning people not only being ripped off but also exploited and promote toxic organizational cultures in NGO's (some of which dont even deserve to call themselves as "conservationists" and in some cases arguably shouldn't even exist).

    The best and most worthwhile volunteering experiences a person looking to get into conservation can go for are those that don't cost a penny (other than that spent on personal expenses) and will preferably provide accomodation there are plenty of those out of there. They can be found informally by just asking around / corresponding via email and doing a little background research. These kind of opportunities will give you an authentic experience of working in conservation which will be gruelling and challenging very far removed of the feel good but ultimately meaningless and shallow in (conservation terms) experience of bottle feeding baby African animals etc.

    One piece of advice I would give anyone looking to get into conservation volunteering is never ever to go for something that you have to pay for (South Africa / Belize/ Indonesia etc) , just do not fall for that ****. Any organization that is worth a damn will take you on for free and the more distinguished ones will actively support you and recognise your contributions.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: 24 Oct 2019
  8. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

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    I think there should be a little more subtlety here. Just off the top of my head, the Endangered Primate Conservation Centre in Vietnam is jointly run by Leipzig Zoo, does great work and offers people the chance to come, pay, and help out. You could correctly argue other places might need your help more, but I think we get into a slightly messy area here. I pay money to enter zoos rather than donating that money to conservation charities because I get something from the experience. That's selfish in some sense, but we all have a duty of care to ourselves. No-one who wants a career in conservation is going to spend their working life paying sanctuaries to allow them to volunteer, that's self-evidently ridiculous. But I think if someone wants a 'conservation holiday' then a more mainstream option may be a good choice. No-one (I think) accuses Sepilok of being essentially a scam, although we might have a very interesting nuanced conversation about whether places like that divert conservation dollars from other causes. When I think about the places I've seen that could really use the help, a lot of the time I don't see an obviously enjoyable and rewarding holiday experience. Not because the work itself isn't 'fun', but because of HR issues, accommodation, interpersonal stuff etc. Once you add the 'selfish' element of wanting something to be personally beneficial, I think the calculus is changed quite a bit.
     
  9. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    The place to begin is where you are. As you do not tell us your age (or shall I say what stage of life you are in), whether you are financially independent, and what your education level and focus is we can hardly make many focused suggestions. The response to an 11 year old will be different from the response to a 69 year old. If you have spent a career in financial management then that is what conservation organizations most need from you. If you have spent some time working on a farm then you may be closer to getting a fieldwork position,
    Passion is often talked about but in itself is of limited use in these matters. You need appropriate skills and appropriate strength and energy every bit as much as passion.
     
  10. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Yes , you are right , there is a need to distinguish the few paid volunteering wildlife NGO's which do actually achieve something positive for conservation while also treating those paying for these experiences (who are customers/consumers when all is said and done) ethically from those which exist as scams.

    To be honest with you, I do not know of many of these NGO's myself , but undoubtedly they are out there and do good work and do not deserve to do lumped with the rip off merchants.
     
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  11. Felion

    Felion Member

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    @Zooplantman

    Hi, sorry that I neglected to introduce myself here as well. Forgive me for pasting my response to a similar question:

    --------------------------------------

    I'm a 24 year old programmer who dropped out of university after studying physics for some time.

    I have fun at my job, but it's still just a job, not a purpose.

    The closest I came to studying zoology was when I enrolled at my highschool's specialization branch of natural sciences, although a tech specialization existed, wanting to become a behaviourist.

    I never had any clue I had a dormant talent at programming until I tried it. Then I proved it, now I got a great job.

    I suppose that type of aimless chaos is not unusual for young people trying to figure life out...

    But all in all, the one thing I can say for myself that will come in handy, is that I understand felines.
    While I try not to be confident in the degree in which my experience applies to big cats, due to not having interacted with any, I do understand the differences due to the niche they evolved into and their social traits on a theoretical level.

    I hope to apply that in conservation-geared research on captive lions or observation work in the field... Ideally.

    I don't see the point in starting to study towards my dreams, since the only actual way is real world networking to begin with, and then it doesn't matter how fancy of a piece of paper you can wave around.

    And then the reason I'm here on this forum is, I'm just feeling plain desparate.

    Edit: I live in Austria

    --------------------------------

    @MRJ
    The need for glamor annoys me as well.
    Preferences, however, can rarely be controlled.

    I can confidently say I don't care about glamor, and would love them the same if they were the most despised species on earth.
    It may have more to do with just being a cat with a relatively large anterior cortex, xD.
     
  12. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    To tell you the truth, if I were interviewing you this would concern me. Anyone who has not worked even near big cats yet assures me that they understand them is a potential safety risk. I'd rather hire or train someone who knew how ignorant they are.
     
  13. Felion

    Felion Member

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    Meanwhile I'm just over here wondering how you read the bits about knowing felines and having theoretical knowledge on what makes big cats different than the ones I have worked with, while you seem to have missed the other parts about actively curbing any false confidence due to not having experienced how much carry-over there really is.
     
  14. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    I think even with keepers who have known their cat charges on a species trait and individual level for decades it is always encouraging to observe them maintaining a sense of guardedness and respect for the unpredictability of these animals. The truth is that even if a person knows these felines right down to the subtle behavioural and body language cues there is still always an element of unpredictability and the unknown with these large predators that if underestimated or respected can be fatal.

    I've worked to a lesser extent in captivity with big cats and I was never able to feel trust, turn my back on them or allow my attention to lapse even for a second. This in spite of it being behind safety corridors with the animals unable to break out. I always used to feel a vibe as if it was rather like being in a high security prison with very dangerous inmates and so had that mentality of caution.

    I've always observed tigers and lions to have a higher propensity towards displaying aggression and to be more "untrustworthy" (for a lack of a better word) than the jaguar which in my experience have been more predictable in their behaviour, mild natured and better tempered. But lets be honest, there have been enough keepers who underestimated jags and ended up killed in zoos in the USA and Europe.

    Irrespective of the species of large cat , they are all apex predators and have hardwired instincts to ambush , attack and kill which are never dampened or curbed by life in captive conditions (and I wouldn't want it to either).
     
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  15. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    No offence @Felion, but I do get what Zooplantman is referring to; the "I understand felines" has a somewhat odd Timothy Treadwell ring to it. And we all know how that went down:

    @Felion: I don't know where exactly in Austria you're currently living (I'm in Salzburg at the moment), but there's a place in Bavaria (well, Mittelfranken...) that might be of interest in regard to voluntary work, an externship etc.
    Raubtier- und Exotenasyl e.V. | Gemeinnütziger Verein zur Erhaltung und dem Schutz von in Not geratenen Raubtieren, Primaten und exotischen Tieren aller Art.

    Further up North, there's the Felidae Wildkatzen- und Artenschutzzentrum Barnim, established and run by a fellow wild cat enthusiast; maybe this is a place for you to go to.
     
    Last edited: 24 Oct 2019
  16. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Haha ! If I was Felion I would be feeling very offended and smarting at being compared to Timothy Treadwell right now.

    Felion , I'm just messing around (so please dont take offence) , but if you start referring to a big cat as "Mr chocolate" I will most definitely worry about you and consider you a lost cause.
     
    Last edited: 24 Oct 2019
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  17. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    Oh well, my intention was certainly not to insult; on the contrary. But I see a few common elements there: the passion for large and dangerous apex predators, the will to help conserve them, the belief to understand them...But whom am I to talk; I just drove quite a long way today to pick up a homeless Cerastes cerastes. ^^
     
  18. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Yes , I know , but it was certainly an unintentionally hilarious comment nonetheless. Footage of Timothy Treadwell always makes me cringe and strangely (probably inappropriately) makes me laugh ( Somehow I don't think Herzog would approve).

    Fortunately though , Felion is definitely not a Treadwell in the making and gives the impression of someone genuinely interested in conservation and who if he plays his cards right will become involved in the field.

    A homeless horned viper ? o_O If you dont mind me asking , how did that happen?
     
  19. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    A friend of mine and owner of said snake has to move out of his flat; so while he's moving to a new place that allows the keeping of a venomous snake, the snake is going to stay at my place.
     
  20. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    An interesting houseguest for sure , fascinating species too