By: Jacob Causey
How did you get to where you are? What inspired you to follow this path in life?
These are two questions I’ve heard many times, especially asked of professionals during the Q&A portion of their lecture sessions. Madison has asked me to answer them here.
My foundational experiences may not be typical for others in my field, but it’s how I came to be what, who, and where I am. I, like many other children born in the 90s, grew up in a world of great educational programming. Some of my earliest memories consist of watching the Magic School Bus, Sesame Street, and a myriad of other PBS programs. However, the ones that taught me about science and the environment are most vivid in my memory. I was so excited for Sunday nights, in particular, because that was when Nature would invade my home for one hour and my imagination for a lifetime. My childhood wasn’t devoid of entertainment television, either. I delved into the sewers with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and swung from the New York City skyline with Spider-Man every day after school. My favorite superheroes weren’t the ones who could lift cars or see through walls – it was the “smart guys”, typically generated in scientific experiments (often times gone awry), with whom I identified the most. Donatello would find a way to outsmart Shredder and the Foot. Spider-Man used his knowledge of science to turn the Lizard back into his friend and genetics professor, Curt Connors. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to go to school and be a scientist and use my mind – my gift – for the good of the world. Those grades had to mean something, and, by God, I was going to make a difference. I just didn’t know where this interest would lead me.
Then I saw the khaki-colored light. The epitome of wildlife TV shows – the Crocodile Hunter. That guy. I wanted to be him. He travelled the world and brought all the greatest, most dangerous, most beautiful animals into my home. With that beauty he brought a rallying call. There it was, laid out on a world stage: these animals were losing their homes or being hunted to oblivion – they were on a track to extinction. This triggered the radioactive spider bite in the core of my being. I was going to be a hero for these animals and the environment.
My childhood exposure to nature wasn’t entirely limited to what I saw on TV. Growing up in the Florida panhandle, I had the best of both worlds when it came to freshwater and marine ecosystems. I lived a hop and a skip from the Apalachicola River and merely a jump from the Gulf of Mexico. As often as we could, my dad and I would explore these ecosystems in his jon boat. He, with his lifetime of outdoor experience, would pilot the boat and let me, wide-eyed and ever in awe, look out at the birds, jumping fishes, trees, and all the other natural majesties this part of the world had to offer. It was those boat rides that brought what I saw on TV to life, to reality. A reality in which I could immerse myself simply by stepping out into my own backyard.
Fast forward to my years in Gainesville, where I attended the University of Florida. I was fortunate enough during my time there to participate in a course which allowed me to study the savannah ecosystems of Swaziland (currently in the process of renaming to eSwatini) and South Africa. This experience was without doubt the most defining moment of my college career. There I was – boots on the ground, placing traps, and recording data… participating in actual field research. If I could give advice to anyone out there wanting to start a career in wildlife science, it would be this: find any opportunity to put into practice the skills you are studying in the classroom. If this opportunity allows you to travel, that makes for a great bonus. Go be part of something bigger than yourself.
The people working in wildlife conservation and research come from all over the world. We have a plethora of interests, inspirations, and origins. If there’s a call that draws you to this kind of work, come join us. Bring your gift and join a team that works tirelessly to save the world. One habitat, one community, one animal at a time.
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt