Since 1988, the Canada’s New Noah program has given young biologists in Canada the opportunity of a lifetime. Each year, Wildlife Preservation Canada selects a post-secondary graduate from dozens of applicants across Canada for the single, coveted position on the tropical island of Mauritius in the western Indian Ocean to complete a program featuring hands-on management of some of the most endangered species in the world. Rosie Heffernan is WPC’s 2024 Canada’s New Noah and reports on her experiences.

Has it only been a month since I arrived on this beautiful island? The DESMAN (Durrell Endangered Species Management) program is only three months long, but between covering the content of an entire course every week, visiting all the tide pools and befriending all their residents, and getting to know my classmates and the amazing conservation work they have done in their native countries, I feel as though I have already had the experience of a lifetime…or at least an entire semester! 

Presenting the application of the Conservation Standards (framework for planning, implementing, and evaluating conservation projects) for our case study of the endemic Gentle Lemurs of Lac Alaotra, Madagascar.

Some of the magnificent seaside creatures (rockweeds, limpets, and sea snails), that can be found in the tide pools of Rozel Bay, only a ten-minute bike ride from where we are staying at Durrell Wildlife Hostel.

Alive but barely breathing after hiking 12km across the northeast coast of Jersey.

In just over a month, we have touched on quite a comprehensive array of conservation principles, from biodiversity, threats, and emerging mitigation strategies to research design, data analysis, and biomonitoring techniques, to name a few. Of all the new skills I have been exposed to, I am most excited to have been able to take the first step towards breaking down the monstrous and terrifying topic of statistics into something slightly less gruesome, and also to practice radio telemetry for the first time!

Celebrating the successful tracking of the critically endangered radio transmitter in its last known habitat of the Durrell parking lot.

The DESMAN program first introduces a wide variety of conservation topics, and then provides the individualized opportunity to dive deeper into those that best suit each student’s knowledge gap, during personal skills development periods that are specifically set aside for these learning opportunities. I am scheduled to spend my skills development period in the Jersey Zoo’s herpetology department (who could have guessed?) where I am excited to unleash the thousands of questions that have been brewing since the group tour of the department.

Learning about the zoo’s captive breeding program for Mauritian lizards has been one of the most fascinating and inspiring parts of my time here so far. After a devastating oil spill off the southwest coast of Mauritius in 2020, dozens of imperilled, endemic lizards – including Bojer’s Skinks, Lesser Night Geckos and Bouton’s Skinks – were rescued from the affected islets and brought to the Jersey Zoo for safekeeping (and hopefully proliferation), while their native habitat undergoes a long and laborious restoration process. I can’t wait for my personal herpetology visit so I can learn more about this amazing endeavor and see if there is any way I can get involved, either here in Jersey or when I travel to Mauritius on the next leg of my journey. 

My brain’s capacity to absorb new information has been pushed to new limits every week, with new content constantly fighting for storage space. However, one of the first lectures from week one has continued to occupy estate without a struggle, about the history and evolution of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. From caring for his wacky collection of animals in his sister’s garden, to formally opening the Jersey Zoo in 1959, Gerald Durrell was unique in his vision to keep wild animals not for entertainment purposes, but to provide them with a safe haven from anthropogenic pressures, and ultimately to reinforce their wild populations with the reintroductions of their young. 

Distinguishing itself from other zoos at the time, the Jersey Zoo championed smaller and less charismatic animals – “little brown jobs” as Gerald Durrell affectionately called them, purposely seeking animals for his zoo that were vital to their ecosystems even if they weren’t flashy and beautiful. As someone with a penchant for the weirdest and most misunderstood creatures, who aspires to one day become a professional helper of the littlest and brownest of jobs, this sweet nickname touched a tender part of my heart. And, in a way, aren’t all conservationists little brown jobs? Like slithering snakes and crawling insects, we may not be the most charismatic bunch, but at the end of the day, our work benefits all those around us, whether or not it is understood by its beneficiaries.

12 new recruits to Durrell’s Army…we are all very happy to be here!

DESMAN’s greatest strength is bringing people together from such a wide diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. Learning amongst such a diverse body of environmental professionals means learning from each other, too, and serves as a source of hope in a time of dwindling hope, a reminder that we are not alone in facing the harrowing times that lie ahead of us. 

We could be learning how to roast marshmallows, and the DESMAN program would still be an incredible opportunity to learn from one another and share hope, strategies, and strength from around the world. Together we are twelve little brown jobs from eight different countries who want to affect a positive change in the world. Putting us in a room together is one of the most profound ways to achieve this goal, and to strengthen our generation’s collective resistance to climate change, the biodiversity crisis, and other global concerns of our time. To clarify, the lessons we are learning here are much more meaningful than making s’mores, but I believe that bringing all of us little brown jobs together to learn with and from each other is the most valuable lesson of all.

Signing off for now, I have a sudden hankering for s’mores…

Rosie Heffernan

Canada’s New Noah

Rosie is WPC’s 33rd New Noah. She is building upon a wealth of conservation knowledge that she has gained working in conservation in Ontario and Costa Rica through this hands-on training program with some of the most endangered species in the world.

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