Chris Smith Project Administrator at HerpMapper.org explains how his fascination in “Creepy Crawlies” led him to a path on environmental science and wildlife biology.
Tell me about how you first got interested in conservation?
I grew up in southeast Texas and spent much of my childhood wandering the woods and swamps. During these outings I encountered many kinds of amphibians, reptiles, and insects, which fascinated me. Of particular interest were those that many others tried to avoid (i.e., snakes, bees and wasps). Growing up, my fascination for these “creepy crawlies” continued and I decided to take courses in high school and college that focused on the environmental science and wildlife biology.
During my studies, I became more aware of the perils many species of wildlife are facing, including many species of amphibians, reptiles, and insects that had fascinated me as a child. As a result, I focused my remaining studies on conservation biology, and have pursued positions that allow me to use these interests to influence on-the-ground conservation actions for these often underappreciated creatures.
Do you have something specific, a lifetime ambition perhaps, that you would like to achieve?
It’s a bit cliché, but I hope that my work leaves the world a little better than it would have been without me.
In the years that you have been involved in conservation research, what would you say is the biggest change that you have witnessed and what has been the effect of this?
I have not been involved in conservation work for that many years, but I have become increasingly aware of political influence on conservation and wildlife management. I’m sure politics have always influenced data-driven land management decisions, but conservation biologists in many regions are facing unprecedented attacks on their work – work that benefits all peoples and the lands for which they depend.
What would you say is your most rewarding moment?
It’s hard to pick one… Despite the doom and gloom present in the field of conservation biology, there are many rewarding moments. Some of the most rewarding moments have been seeing land acquired and protected, and seeing populations rebound as a result land management changes.
What do you miss most about home whilst you are away and what can’t you live without?
Being away from home can be difficult, and it may require personal sacrifices, but it fits my preferred lifestyle well. I enjoy traveling, spending time alone, seeing new and interesting places, and the interesting fauna and flora that inhabit these places.
What’s your favourite reptile and why?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I am a fan of rattlesnakes. Any day with a rattlesnake is a good day.
Do you have any pets of any kind? Reptiles or otherwise?
Yes, I keep several species of snakes as pets / educational animals. Outreach and education is important, if people are not exposed to wildlife they will not come to appreciate it.
Where is your favourite place that you have visited?
I try to take away memories from every place I visit, whether near or far, but I find I am happiest in the desert.
Do you feel that enough funding is available for conservation research and that there is enough awareness outside of the community?
Depending on where one is working, there are quite a few resources available for conservation work. That said there is always more than can be done if funding were to be available and accessible. In addition to research, on-the-ground restoration and continued maintenance is very expensive and not always funded to the level it should be.
What tips would you give to somebody who was interested in getting involved in these types of projects?
It’s never too late to get involved. If still in school, taking appropriate coursework is important. And good grades matter. But at any age individuals can get involved in volunteer programs, including programs that allow individuals to help control invasive species – and although this is hard work it is very important work.
Individuals can also get involved in citizen science, collecting observational data that are shared with conservation and research organizations. There are many to pick from, but some of my personal favorites are: HerpMapper.org; BumbleBeeWatch.org; and LostLadyBug.org.
Is there an ideal type of person, in terms of age, qualifications, fitness etc., which makes the best volunteer?
No. There are opportunities for individuals of any age, skill, and physical ability.
If you could implement one change that would improve our planet, what would that be?
Education is key. We need more time spent on environmental coursework in K-12 and more coverage of positive conservation stories via the media.