Lonely Conservationists

Taylor (Resilient more than determined)

Written by Taylor Tvede

I’ve wanted to work with animals since I was a kid, but in my mind that always meant something like dolphin trainer or the person at the zoo who did the bird shows and got to teach everyone neat things about cool animals. Being a vet was an option I had thought about. Hell I took part in a veterinary mentorship program my senior year of high school, but most of my vet school friends basically walked out of the womb wanting to be veterinarians. That wasn’t me.

When I went off to college I really started learning more about wild animals and their plight to live on this planet. I studied abroad in Costa Rica learning about the conservation of sea turtles – both from a biology standpoint as well as a psychology perspective. I laid down next to a Leatherback sea turtle on the shores of Playa Grande while we were doing beach patrols at 2 in the morning and that’s what hit the joy spark in my brain and I knew conservation was what I wanted to do. I studied abroad twice more, working with coral in the Bahamas and birds in Israel before graduating with two bachelor’s degrees and moving to North Carolina to do more sea turtle stuff in Topsail.

Now this next part makes a really good long sentence, especially because I talk quickly. I moved from North Carolina to Florida to Arkansas, back to North Carolina then up to Indiana and back to my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the span of 4 years. I was basically a professional intern with one or two side jobs at each location to support myself and pay for my next move.

While I was in Arkansas, I got a call from my mother, concerned for my well-being as mothers are, asking when I was going to get a real job instead of this hopping around with seemingly no goal in sight that I was doing. My goal was just to learn as much about any wild animal I could so that when I did finally settle down (spoiler: 7 years later that hasn’t actually happened yet) I would be so ready to crush whatever career goals I had developed and be a major contributing factor to the recovery of a species or an ecosystem.

But how would she know or understand that? Parents want their kids to be successful. My lifestyle and bank account and the student loan debt I was barely chipping away at might all indicate otherwise. I, however, felt like I had a successful life thus far. I was working hard and participating in conservation efforts everywhere I went. Literally the dream. And said dream continued on when I moved back to North Carolina and up to Indiana.

It wasn’t until I worked at the sanctuary in Indiana that I realised that I did actually want to be a vet. We had a lot of procedures on a lot of different animals during my short 4 month internship and all I could do was watch, and it burned my chest so bad that I couldn’t be doing more. So, I moved back to Albuquerque to finish up a couple of pre-requisite classes and apply to veterinary school.

While I was taking classes I interned with the veterinarian at the ABQ BioPark Zoo, Dr. Zimmerman, and eventually was hired on as a zookeeper. Dr. Z is the definition of life goals. My first day with him, we went to a lunch-time presentation hosted by the zoo’s herpetology supervisor who had coordinated a conservation project with Zoo National d’Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa. Initially the project was designed to help the African zoo recover its collection of critically endangered West African slender-snouted crocodiles, but it grew into an opportunity to breed and release these reptiles back into their natural habitat. Learning of this project and Dr. Z’s involvement in it was the first time I fully comprehended how useful veterinarians can be with assisting conservation efforts in situ.

Obviously, as a zoo veterinarian, Dr. Z helped with species survival programs and contributes to endangered animal conservation (ex situ) on the daily, but seeing that he was involved in global efforts made my heart so hopeful for what I wanted to accomplish in my future as a veterinarian.

Dr. Z suggested I apply to his alma mater for vet school, so I did. I moved to St. Kitts, a Caribbean island, to attend Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, where they had more sea turtles projects for me to jump into! The little free time I had was spent travelling: Guatemala, South Africa, Spain. I participated in veterinary externships with so many different creatures and learned how to be a veterinary conservationist along the way. Now I’m completing my final year of school at Royal Veterinary College in London.

Well, I was until the UK was put on lock-down and the College elected to suspend rotations (aka in-hospital learning) until September.

Woof. 6 months.

6 extra months of being a student (which I hate, by the way), 6 extra months of student loans, 6 extra months until I can start my career. Oh, and also my graduation date is pushed back too far into 2021 for me to be able to hike the Appalachian Trail when I finish (but I’m clearly not salty or anything).

So here we are with an indefinite pause in life. My life has been a consistent GO signal since high school, so I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do with free time in the first place, but I don’t know if it would be so bad if my heart wasn’t like “oh hey, no school? So let’s go learn about another species that needs help in like the Philippines or somewhere” (I want to work with Philippine Eagles so badly). That’s the part that makes me feel stuck. I’ve spent the last 3 years in a classroom (again, my least favourite place) to get to the point where I can start to help with saving a species and making a difference and effecting change, but even though I’m not a vet yet, I could still be doing SOMETHING with this down time if it wasn’t for all the travel bans (totally justified, please don’t think I’m trying to put anyone in danger by country-hopping).

This whole story has boiled down to me wanting to talk about resilience. This was a running theme amongst Ross students while I was on the island. We had weekly power outages, water outages, internet outages, and my class survived two Category 5 hurricanes back to back in 2017. Resilience is not uncommon amongst conservationists, but similarly to how I never used it as a word to describe myself, I don’t hear it being used as a word to describe the people in the conservation field. I hear dedicated a lot and yes, I totally agree, but resiliency probably plays a huge factor into that quality. Think about it: conservationists work against the grain of the ever-growing world. A lot of really great work goes completely unnoticed by the general public, and the public can be resistant to many of the goals we are trying to accomplish, even if they’re doing so unintentionally.

Point is, I know a lot of people are really concerned with the state of the world right now. Funding for conservation projects may be temporarily suspended, field work may have grinded to a halt, and if you’re like me you don’t feel like you’re doing enough at this point in time (because, like me, you may be doing literally nothing and it’s making you really anxious). I’m doing my best, though, to not forget about all the peripheral stuff that comes with success. Things like joy, pride, passion, and resiliency are all things that I can enjoy during this hiatus. I am so proud to have a passion that brings me enough joy to be anxious about not working right now. I try to find some happiness in the idea that my career is so freaking cool and so important that I can’t stand to be away from it like this. And I hope anyone who has ventured through this story with me can feel some kind of comfort in knowing that their job and their passion is so so important and they should be so proud to be doing something that brings them joy as well.

For more of Taylor, check out @taytweet31 on Instagram

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