Chats with Conservationists: Izzy Ridgen, a Career in Conservation

Chats with Conservationists: Izzy Ridgen, a career in conservation | Pigments by Liv

Welcome to the second blog in the Chats with Conservationists series, where we learn from the front-line of wildlife conservation, what it’s like to choose a career in conservation and what we can do to help. Today, we meet Conservationist Izzy…

Hi everyone, I’m Izzy! I’m a 22-year-old conservation biologist from Somerset, England. From as soon as I could talk, I have been OBSESSED with animals, from the smallest ant to the mighty elephant, I wanted to learn about them all. My parents have always said that my future career would include the natural world, and you know what? They were right.

Inspiring a career in conservation

The first book I read independently was “Life of Mammals” by Sir David Attenborough, his words were like poetry and that was the very moment I fell in love with nature. He has been my inspiration for as long as I can remember and has taught me how we urgently need to protect the environment on which we rely upon.

The Legend, Sir David Attenborough

As my close friends know, the love I have for David Attenborough is immense. I have all his books and DVDs, a few signed photos and a photo canvas. However, my favourite thing I own of David Attenborough definitely has to be my tattoo…yes you read that correctly, my tattoo!

I have always wanted a quote of his to show off how much he means to me, but I felt like that was so generic and unoriginal. For years I saw a meme circulating of him holding a giant leaf and of course, nobody would get that tattooed on them, would they? Well, I did, and I have not regretted it for a single second.

Chats with Conservationists: Izzy Ridgen, a career in conservation | Pigments by Liv
Via Giphy

My most memorable animal encounters

At university, I had the opportunity to take part in a placement year. My favourite animal by far has to be African Elephants, so where else to go than to South Africa for 6 months? Here, we were to carry out a research project on the use of synthetic insect pheromones in mitigating elephant escapees within protected areas.

I lived in a small bush camp in the heart of Balule Nature reserve. This camp was open, so that meant no fences and wild animals could wander directly into camp. It was both terrifying and exciting listening to the night-time symphony of hyena, lion, leopard and occasionally elephant whilst sat round the campfire! Sometimes when they were close enough, we would get in the Land Rover to go and find them.

Chats with Conservationists: Izzy Ridgen, a career in conservation | Pigments by Liv
Balule Nature Reserve Career in Conservation Izzy Ridgen

Seeing african elephants in the wild

I have two memorable animal encounters from this trip and they both made me emotional in different ways. The first was at Kruger National Park, where I saw a herd of 100 individual elephants. Back in Balule, the elephant herds were very small and had up to 25 individuals.

In Kruger, little did I know it was baby season! I counted over 8 babies and the guide pointed out a tiny calf who was less than a week old. I of course cried my eyes out with happiness, it was so surreal being able to see something that many people can only view through a television screen. I was overwhelmed with joy and the photos I took remain my wallpaper and laptop screen today.

Chats with Conservationists: Izzy Ridgen, a career in conservation | Pigments by Liv

A harsh reality of a career in conservation

Nevertheless, some memories are not happy ones but can show how difficult conservation efforts can actually be, especially when things are out of your control. Balule was one of the many reserves that bordered the R40. If any dangerous animals, including elephants, escaped onto this road, they were given 24hrs to be reclaimed by the rightful reserve or would have to be shot to ensure the safety of those using the road and nearby towns.

One evening we got the call that 4 elephant bulls had escaped a reserve and were strolling down the R40. Nobody in the bordering reserves knew whose elephants they were but the warden of Balule said that they would happily rehome them due to the vast space within the protected area.

The next morning at 8am we all got ready to help welcome these bulls, it was already 40° and climbing and this is when things started to go wrong. When the elephants were darted on the road, they all took off in different directions, broke back into separate reserves and into thick bush, making them difficult to find. Once darted, elephants can only be on their side for 2hrs before their weight causes their organs to shut down.

The elephants arrived at the reserve at 11am, 3hrs after being darted. My main fear before travelling to South Africa was to see a dead elephant, and on this day, I saw 4, including the final moments of two. Conservation efforts are widely successful, this was just an anomaly. The reserve gave these 4 elephants a fighting chance instead of being shot and I am happy that they tried.

Chats with Conservationists: Izzy Ridgen, a career in conservation | Pigments by Liv

This moment truly showed me that conservation is not straight forward but is desperately needed. Of course, it was the most heartbreaking experience of my life, but also the most eye-opening to the conservation efforts that happen daily all over the world. It increased my admiration for wildlife conservationists and their sheer strength to deal with situations with these outcomes.

A career in conservation: the future

If I am being honest with you, I have no idea which area of conservation I see myself going as there are so many! I have always loved the idea of being a zookeeper as it is hands-on and close to the animals.

Zoos, conservation and biodiversity

At university, I learned about the importance of zoos in conservation from a guest speaker who controls the breeding programme of Diana monkeys within the UK. She manages which individuals from her zoo breed with which individuals from other zoos whilst minimising inbreeding, which in addition to becoming a keeper seems so fascinating to me as a career.

Zoos are very important for maintaining biodiversity as some zoos have reintroduction programmes, such as London Zoo. These zoos release threatened animals back into their natural habitat where appropriate, to re-establish wild populations and rekindle the natural balance within their habitat. They are also important for spreading awareness of threatened animals, as it is said that you are more likely to want to help conserve an animal when you have seen it in the flesh.

Chats with Conservationists: Izzy Ridgen, a career in conservation | Pigments by Liv

How to support animal conservation from home?

Watch Environmental Documentaries on Netflix

I would recommend everyone to watch “Chasing Coral” and “David Attenborough: A life on our planet”, both found on Netflix. These films will completely change the way you look at the world and how desperately we need to change how we treat it.

They educate you on situations that are unfolding right in front of your eyes and explain it in a way for everyone to understand, so we can make this change together and quick.

Support brands that donate profits to conservation charities

There are companies that donate a % of their profits towards conservation charities through selling clothing, bottles, jewelry etc. I personally love to support them as I know my money is going towards such a great cause. Also, the designs are always so cute and around the same price as your typical unsustainable fast fashion items, so what is there to lose?

Midi skirt and graphic tee | How to Wear a Graphic Tee | Pigments by Liv

Also, most conservation businesses use sustainable ways of producing their items, such as Pigments by Liv. She hand-paints her designs and oh my, she is so talented as they are gorgeous! I am very excited for the release of her new design, you bet I’ll be supporting this business as 10% of her profits go towards environmental charities!

Decrease your animal product intake

Try and decrease your animal product intake, like meat, to only a few meals per week. Or maybe even just changing your milk to a plant-based option (PSA, Oatly oat milk is the best and tastes just like cereal milk). These are just a few suggestions on how you can decrease your own personal impact on the planet.

Thank you so much for reading my blog! If you’d like to continue to follow my career in conservation, follow my Instagram @izzyrigden 🙂

Izzy x

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