Making the switch to a career in conservation – Olivia Carter

Making the switch to a career in conservation - Olivia Carter Guest Blog | Chats with Conservationists | Pigments by Liv

Hi everyone, I’m Olivia! I’m 28 and an aspiring environmental scientist and conservationist. The only thing I can tell you about me, with certainty, is that I love animals so much it hurts! From my first love, a pony called Harvey, to my dogs Darwin and Fossey (named after biology and conservation legends Charles Darwin and Dian Fossey!).

Every animal that has ever existed, has fascinated me. Through lots of different jobs, moving to new cities and the crazy ups and downs of my twenties my love of animals has never wavered. My route into conservation isn’t conventional, but that doesn’t matter – the road less travelled is just as exciting! Let me tell you about switching careers into conservation…

Fossey & Darwin | Making the switch to a career in conservation - Olivia Carter Guest Blog | Chats with Conservationists | Pigments by Liv

Inspiring a career in conservation

When I was 8 years old, my family moved from Oxfordshire to Chile. I saw some phenomenal habitats and animals at a young age. We had lots of memorable family trips, from Patagonia to the Amazon and I was always in awe of our planet.

But it was my first trip to Africa in 2010 that really changed my life. I was lucky enough to stay in the Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. I spent lots of time with my absolute favourite animal, the African Elephant, and heard my first wild lion roar from less than 2 metres away! There were a few bitter pills to swallow too.

What does it truly mean to protect wildlife?

The Selous is beautiful. It’s the largest game reserve in the world – twice the size of Switzerland, and home to many endangered species, including the critically endangered Black Rhino, Painted Wolf and Leopard. While it is a protected area, 90% of it can be used for trophy hunting.
Camping with Lions | Making the switch to a career in conservation - Olivia Carter Guest Blog | Chats with Conservationists | Pigments by Liv

Everyone has their views on this complex issue, but at 18 years old, the thought that this beautiful lioness could wander over an invisible border and be shot for “sport”, broke my heart. I wanted to do something but had no idea what or how.

I think about her often and listen to her roar inside my head. I’ll never know what happened to her, but it’s my biggest wish that she lived and died naturally, not part of an unfairly weighted game. It was my time in Tanzania that really got me thinking about what it truly means to protect wildlife.

Deciding to switch to a career in conservation

That year I left school, moved to Scotland (where I still live) and studied Politics and International Relations at university. Afterwards, I worked at a stables for a few years, then I was a wine and produce buyer for an organic shop and then I started working for a women’s charity. Obviously, these aren’t jobs in conservation!

I travelled a lot too, and last January I was so fortunate to get extremely close to not one, but six Black Rhino in less than an hour (there are only around 5,500 left in the world!). It was one of the most special days of my life and in those precious moments, the desire to change my career that has been bubbling under the surface really started to boil over. I wanted to work in animal conservation.

How I’m making the switch to a career in conservation

On the 10th anniversary of that life-changing trip to Tanzania and in the middle of the pandemic, I decided to study Environmental Science. Being stuck inside all year gave me the boost I needed to start this new journey.

Exploring Selous | Making the switch to a career in conservation - Olivia Carter Guest Blog | Chats with Conservationists | Pigments by Liv

However, being a “grown-up” and completely veering off the path you are on is tough, after all, there are bills to pay! I started my degree with the Open University. I’m studying full time, alongside everything else in my life. Halfway through the first year I’m nothing but glad that I found the courage to change direction (and I’m completely astonished by what I’m capable of)!

My dream is to work in Africa, specifically with communities that need sustainable solutions to problems that cause conflict with wildlife and harm habitats. This kind of issue doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all resolution. It requires a lot of people with a wide range of skills to make effective change, I hope I can be a part of that.

The Dream | Making the switch to a career in conservation - Olivia Carter Guest Blog | Chats with Conservationists | Pigments by Liv

I am obviously just at the beginning of my conservation journey, I’ll be 31 when I finally get to say I’m an environmental scientist, but it’s important to remember that life isn’t linear. I’ll be 31 in 2.5 years regardless! You’re never too old and it’s never too late to find your purpose – we need to start normalising that!

Can I switch to a career in conservation without a degree in science?

You can also have a career in conservation without being a scientist. In fact, conservation needs more politicians, lawmakers, journalists, vets, business people, influencers, and artists. But mostly what our planet and its wild spaces really need, is you.

Using your voice to help conservation

Saving habitats is a joint effort, so when you learn things, share them! Social media is a powerful platform and you will have followers who’ll learn something even just by pausing on your page for a second. Technology means that everyone has the power to change the hearts and minds of those around them, and advocate for change that leaves nobody behind.
If an organisation is doing a great job, give them a shout out. If someone is marginalised and needs their voice amplified, share your platform with them. When something educates you, pay it forward by educating others. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have, you always reach someone!

Making small changes for animal conservation

There are also so many simple changes we can make ourselves. Transitioning to a more plant-based diet, or choosing slow fashion from brands that give back (yay! Pigments by Liv!) and remembering your reusable bottle when you go outside.
Elephant Reusable Bottle | Making the switch to a career in conservation - Olivia Carter Guest Blog | Chats with Conservationists | Pigments by Liv

They may all be small changes, but 7.8 billion people making small changes creates one really big change. And of course, if you find yourself at a crossroads, don’t be afraid to jump. Life is too short for “what could have beens”!

Thank you for reading! If you’d like to follow my journey, you can on my Instagram

@girlwiththeelephanttattoo

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