Written by Alexandra Howard

Who else has felt that people don’t really understand the hardships of working in conservation?  

Or who else is scared to share their struggles publicly as our social media is biased to only sharing happy moments? Recently I had to make a disclaimer on one of my most liked Instagram posts stating “P.S.A This insta page does not accurately portray the many hours of sweat, blood, bruises, sunburn and sleep deprivation endured during zoological adventures and may perpetuate the misconception of glamorous bushveld lifestyles”.  This stemmed from the fact that I had become tired of being made to feel guilty during the 2020 lockdown period for the perception that friends, family and followers had of a great lifestyle, job and emotional wellbeing because I did not publicly share my struggles, rejections and losses. 

Like many Lonely Conservationists, I really struggled through 2020 due to losing a close family member, being retrenched from a new job and failing mental health as l was stranded far away from any support systems during lockdown. However, I didn’t want to or know how to share these facts publicly without shame, embarrassment or judgement. It was even harder to convince the few I confided in that I really was struggling when that was so far from the false perception I projected. 

I am learning to share my failures as we have (wrongly) been convinced not to share our rejections in fear that they may be seen as weakness, flaws or inadequacies. This adds to the feeling of loneliness as we perpetuate the belief that every other conservationist is better, got lucky or deserves it more as we don’t know their real stories. But in my opinion, it takes a lot more bravery to share the truth and the struggles we have overcome to be where we are.

Despite my whole career plan falling to pieces, it was the 9 month sabbatical that I needed to recuperate from being previously exploited, face the harsh realities of the industry and cement my absolute resolve to excelling in this field of conservation. I had the time to read, reflect, meditate and really think about what conservationist I want to be. I learnt when to ask for help at the breaking point where being stubbornly independent is just more damaging. Last year gave me the time to build true resilience and real friendships in beautifully wild places as I was incredibly lucky for the kindness of others in the sector who took me to literally house, feed and train me.

I must share a heartfelt thank you to Lonely Conservationists for creating a safe space to share our stories as I’m still learning to share honestly and accept the harsh realities of an industry I am so dedicated too. It can be as cut-throat competitive as corporate; it is tough, isolating and lonely but also consists of amazingly selfless people who are devoted to making a real difference. A special thank you to the numerous lecturers, scientists, friends, students, volunteers, photographers and animals that have inspired and helped me get here.

Here’s to being more open, honest and sharing the truth of our struggles no matter how unglamorous and troublesome they are so we may help each other survive through it all for a better working world.

For more of Alexandra, check out @blonde_zoologist on Instagram