Exclusivity in conservation

At the start of this year I invested a great deal of time researching and enquiring about potential internships for my summer break. These plans have, unfortunately, had to be amended slightly.

So many of these ‘internships’ cost in excess of £1000 per week, and that’s not even including flights, visas, travel insurance or any essential equipment.

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Above the clouds, on route from Kilimanjaro to Istanbul

I did manage to find some opportunities that were free or even offered partial funding, but these are few and far between and many of them were not suited to me (as an undergraduate student) or required more time than I could commit.

(Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances last summer, I began my first year of university with very little money and this has at times been a bit stressful, so I am keen to get back into full time work this summer and hopefully gather some savings together to support me through second year – so spending the entire summer volunteering is not an option for me.)

Despite not being able to find a suitable internship for this summer, I am planning some photography trips and may even venture abroad at some point, so all is not lost and I still hoping to make my time off uni worthwhile!

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Berat, Albania

Anyway, back to the subject of expensive internships…

I joined a Facebook group where lots of conservation careers opportunities are shared, and I have noticed that many people question how much good a lot of these ‘providers’ actually do.

It is my belief that these organisations should be there solely for the protection, restoration and research of the natural world, and anybody interested in contributing to this great work should be welcomed with open arms.

But instead, profit seems to take precedence over inclusivity, the ‘visitor experience’ is more important than the task at hand, and it almost seems as though in many cases these businesses are trying to sugar-coat the situation.

The reality here is that we are failing our planet, and even in the midst of people who are supposed to care, money is still placed at a higher value than caring for the natural world.

We need to be encouraging people from all backgrounds to take an interest in conservation, yet there is this elitist attitude that is preventing people from accessing it.

Of course, providing food and accommodation for volunteers does require some contribution, but there is a significant difference between covering costs and expecting students (or their parents) to pay several thousand pounds for the experience.

It is perhaps a little ironic that I am now about to discuss the expedition I went on to Tanzania and Kenya when I was eighteen, with an organisation called Camps International.

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Elephants in Tsavo, Kenya

This was in itself a significant financial commitment, and I spent close to a year and a half fundraising and working to get the funds together for it. During the fundraising events that I held (with the help of my parents) I had to become an advocate for Camps International, talking about the many projects they conduct around the world and persuading people that it was a worthwhile cause to donate to.

The month that I spent out there was perhaps one of the most influential times of my life. We worked hard and achieved a lot while we were there, from building a house for a lady whose children had died, to planting trees, to constructing elephant deterrent fencing to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

Towards the end of the trip we had a talk from the women’s group that had been founded by Camps International in the community surrounding our camp in Kenya. The camp was near a busy highway which had hundreds of trucks passing through every day, and it was common for women from the surrounding villages to sell themselves as prostitutes there. Camps International had provided alternative jobs for these women, and as well as helping them directly, had also helped to prevent the spread of HIV, which was rife in the community.

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Tumaini women’s group

Of course, we did get days off from volunteering, and during our month there we had the privilege of going on a safari and engaging in a diving course off the coast of Tanzania.

Returning to my previous comment about many of the trips I have seen advertised catering more for the visitor experience than actually being for the benefit of the wildlife or people, I recently saw an expedition being sold to students on the fact that ‘you can take selfies with turtles’.

Somehow, I don’t think satisfying students’ social media egos is quite what the turtles need, and I think that this kind of advertising will attract the wrong sort of people onto the expeditions – not to mention that this could actually be quite a stressful experience for the turtle, which is a wild animal and would not likely be comfortable being so close to a human. In my opinion, contact with wild animals should be minimised, and volunteers should only be approaching them when absolutely necessary.

The planet desperately needs our help, and if students (or other people) are searching for conservation-related opportunities to participate in, they should be able to engage with projects that are affordable, but that also have a meaningful impact. We shouldn’t be putting a price on our planet’s well-being.

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I am a little bit afraid of spiders…

I am a little bit afraid of spiders. And I am very ashamed to admit it.

As a zoology student and general outdoor person, I pride myself on being made of ‘tougher stuff’. Snakes, rats, mud – all fine.

Spiders, however, do cause a slight issue.

I have a couple of vague memories from when I was small, in which these eight-legged beasties feature.

The first must have been from when I was very young, because I can remember not actually feeling afraid at the time. There was a rather large spider on the landing and my mum was yelling for my dad to remove it. I think that’s probably where it began, the terrible thought process (or lack of) that spiders were something to be feared.

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An unusual spider seen in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

The second was when I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth. There was another very large spider crouching on the floor, and I was vigilant, keeping an eye on it in case it decided to scuttle over my bare toes. But then my mum was there, and I was distracted, at least until I unwittingly stepped backwards, and she said, ‘mind the spider!’ – and then came the leap of terror away from it.

Another time, I was rummaging around in the cupboard, on my hands and knees (it was one of those low-down cupboards underneath a staircase, so there was no other option) and then as I backed out again caught sight of the two spiders sat just inches away from my face.

To summarise, I have encountered many spiders during my twenty one years on earth and so far, I’m not overly enamoured.

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I don’t want to be afraid of these creatures. They’re actually insanely beautiful and I am fascinated by the webs they create. For this reason, (and for my own pride) I began to work on my fear.

(On a side note, I had a friend who, once she found out about this, used to send me a picture of a spider every day. I’m not entirely sure that this helped much, but I felt that she deserved a mention anyway.)

Before, anytime a spider had run across my bedroom floor, I had sat on my bed, drawn my knees up to my chin and watched it until it disappeared, only to then wonder incessantly where it had gone and when it would return.

After telling myself that I was a wimp, I got braver and would cover the spider with a cup, slide a piece of paper underneath and carry it outside.

I’d say that this is probably as good as it’s ever got…

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A spider in Valbona National Park, Albania

Fast forward a few years, and at the end of sixth form I went to Tanzania and Kenya for a month to volunteer in community and conservation projects.

There are a lot of weird and wonderful gigantic bugs in Africa and for the most part I was comfortable with them. In Tanzania I saw the odd spider, but they were usually quite small and remained at a reasonable distance.

Upon arrival in Kenya, I noted the four huge spiders on the light above the dining area but was determined not to be bothered by them.

In Kenya we had lovely little wooden buildings to sleep in, and the first thing I did after choosing my bed was to unfold the mosquito net and note (with much satisfaction) that it touched the floor.

With the heat and the tough manual labour we were doing, it was imperative that we drank huge volumes of water (between five and eight litres per day), so inevitably every night you would have to hop across camp in the dark to relieve yourself… and having to untuck a mosquito net from your mattress while still half asleep but bursting for the toilet is less than fun – so the fact that my net reached the floor and could prevent mosquitoes while not having to be tucked in was a marvellous thing!

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My bed, complete with mosquito net

Five nights went by and I didn’t think anything of this decision.

Then, everything changed.

On the sixth night, I fell asleep laying on my left side, with my right arm resting on my hip over the top of my sleeping bag. At approximately two o’clock in the morning, I woke up and, still in a fuzzy, sleepy state registered that something was crawling on my arm, next to my elbow.

This realisation jolted me from half asleep to wide awake in a matter of milliseconds – I swiped at whatever it was, felt it brush past my hand and then hurriedly searched for my torch in the pitch black. It seemed to take hours to find the torch, although I know it can’t have been more than a few seconds.

Turning it on, I shone it onto the bed and saw my early-morning visitor for the first time.

A huge, black spider was making its way along the edge of my bed. I froze and watched it as it disappeared over the end of the mattress.

To cut a long story short, I woke up the other girls in my room and one of them kindly got up, located the spider and took it outside for me.

(I feel I should clarify here: I didn’t scream at any point during this ordeal. If I am genuinely afraid then I tend to go completely mute – if I do scream it’s probably not real fear!)

The whole group seemed to be talking about it at breakfast the next day; it had certainly freaked me out and I learnt my lesson about tucking in mosquito nets – I will never let one drag on the floor again!

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Unfortunately I never got a photograph of the spider that climbed into my bed – this is one of the ones that hung from the beams and lights above the dining area in Kenya

After returning to England, I did a little bit of investigation and believe that this spider was a ‘wandering wolf spider’ – commonly found in buildings and perfectly harmless – just not particularly welcome in my bed in the early hours of the morning.

Since this incident, I have been much better with British spiders (they are honestly tiny in comparison), although I’m still not comfortable touching or holding them (I haven’t actually tried, but the thought makes me uneasy, so I can make an educated guess!)

Inevitably, at some point in the future I am going to travel to more exciting places which will be home to various species of large spider. Let’s hope I can kick this fear by then, or I could be in for more trouble!

Oh hello, 2019…

It was precisely three years, five months and six days ago that I published my opening blog post here.

Wild Call blog began as a way for my seventeen-year-old self to document and share my shenanigans with animals as I studied for my A-levels, and then left home for the first time. I say ‘first time’ as things didn’t quite go according to plan, and six months later I found myself back in my parents’ cosy cottage in rural Norfolk.

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Captain Beaky making himself at home

As life changed, the blog gradually became much less of a priority, until one day it occurred to me that I had not written anything for many months. Life was busy and my interest in writing had faded, replaced with a multitude of other exciting prospects.

Now however, at the age of twenty one, I am feeling the urge to revive Wild Call blog again. My experiences over the past three years have, in some respects flipped my view of the world completely on its head and now I envisage that the blog will not only be a place for me to share my ever growing passion for the natural world, but to also touch on some slightly more ‘human’ aspects of my life.

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Sunset snuggles with Rusty

So, perhaps as I have deleted all previous content of Wild Call, I should give you some kind of brief introduction…

My name is Charlotte Page and I am a first year zoology student at the University of Lincoln.

I live by myself here in Lincoln and am currently juggling my studies with a part time job in a café, caring for my loan horse and setting up my own dog training and walking business.

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Dakota posing for the camera

As you can probably tell, life is busy but very exciting at the moment. I have so many stories, ideas and experiences to share and honestly cannot wait to begin blogging again.

I hope that you will join me on my journey – I’m not entirely sure where I’m going, but there will definitely be animals!

Stay tuned for the first ‘proper’ post, arriving this weekend 🙂