I have been rather absent on the blog front for the last six months as I decided to finally take action on my threat to return to studying and signed up for Honours in Zoology part-time. Combining that with my full-time job and still have a life has been challenging, but the first batch of exams is over and I made it, well, I think I did. The marks aren’t out yet and I am not so sure how well I did in the 8 hour exam we had for one of the subjects, that is 8 hour THEORY exam… I have never written an 8 hour, open book exam on the computer before so not sure about what to expect from the marking! I still have an assignment to complete for the other module and then can tick those two courses off the list. In fact, I am in Jeffery's Bay typing this on my way to St Francis to get some photos for the assignment. (Side note – two majors reasons I am back in the blogging world is my new laptop and a cool program I found to download called Windows Live Writer – I can sync it with my blogs and then do all the writing and editing offline and just log on to publish…)
The Honours course I am doing involves 5 modules and a research section, which includes a seminar presentation and a project. These are aimed at teaching us how to do research and present our work, but also helpful in guiding us to the speciality that we will focus on. When I started I was sure I knew what speciality I wanted to do, after all my intentions were to future my studies so I could move into the research department at work, but still be involved with the Snake Park – so Herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) here I come was my theory, but now I am not so sure… Herpetology still holds great appeal for me as I have a passion for these animals and although there is a herp-loving community in South Africa, only a select few have the training to do research. With the current amphibian crisis, research is desperately needed, and South African herpetologists do a lot of work in other African countries due to the lack of trained personnel in those countries – which means loads of field trips all over the continent. I also feel that it is a responsibility of those of us who have a passion for conserving these animals to educate those who exploit or fear them. While I am not anti-herpetoculture (keeping reptiles as pets) considering the fact that I have a beautiful little gecko at home, I do think that too many of the people who keep these animals as pets are promoting (often unconsciously) the illegal trade which is the main cause for many species to be endangered, and I would love to play a part in reducing the influence the herpetoculture world has on that. I don’t know how I would go about doing that, but that’s the whole point of science – solving problems! I also feel a responsibility to help people who have a great fear of reptiles to learn to value them (or even love them) for the roles they play in nature. A fear is not something we are born with, but something we learn and therefore, we can unlearn it, if we want to. I want to help people find the desire to overcome this fear by helping them see the good side of reptiles and not just the fact that they can potentially kill you – stepping out of your front door can potentially kill you, but most of us do not fear that action!
One of the modules I have completed this last semester (the one with the marathon exam) was all about Conservation Biology and repeatedly in the articles we were reading, there were references to how this is important to the management of Zoo populations or how Zoo’s play a role in achieving a goal in the management of a species. I do realise that I would notice those references more than others, due to the fact that I work at a Zoo, even though it is a specialist Zoo, but it got me thinking. Could I make a career from doing research into and assisting Zoos to more effectively play the role they need to in the conservation of the world’s species? I know there are exceptions, but the majority of Zoos I have been in contact with want to be active in conservation but there are many limiting factors in this – one of them is that often those who provide funding or permission for conservation programs do not see Zoos as serving a role in conservation, especially from a scientific point of view. I would love to help them to access the funding and permission by doing the research needed to provide scientific proof for those decision makers.
So I have a choice, but luckily I also have time. Many scientists change their focus a couple of times throughout their post-graduate studies, looking for the speciality which best suits them. I would like to have a good idea before I start Masters in 2011, and in preparation for this I am hoping to do one of each in Honours. I still need to finalise supervisors and get approval from Honours coordinator and stuff, but I would like to do my seminar on “The Role Zoos Play in Conservation”, a presentation which I could use in various platforms in relation to work as well. For my project, my first choice (I think) is a study of the Bradypodian taeniabronchum (Smith’s Dwarf Chameleon). I think I could add in a couple of elements to the study where I practice some of the Conservation Biology techniques, although the application of the data will be limited due to the short time frame of the research. My other option is a project about the invasive geckos species in Port Elizabeth and surrounds and the most appealing part of that project is that I would get to work with Bill as my supervisor – and as a herpetologist that is equivalent to the latest James Bond working with Sean Connery!