It had been four months since I completed my Masters thesis. I was keeping busy piecing together scholarship applications, drafting research papers, and grappling with the uncertainty about what would come next. Wildlife-related work prospects were poor in winter and I did not desire to stare at a screen for the months ahead. With several scholarship applications submitted and a hankering to dive deeper into topics explored during my thesis, I struck out on a somewhat impulsive winter road trip to sample natural history museum collections in the northeastern United States. I had time and there was data to collect.
On 10 February 2015, while visiting the collections of the Peabody Museum at Yale University, an email dropped into my inbox: “Re: Canada’s New Noah Program”. It was a congratulatory message–I had made the short list and would be interviewed! The weeks that followed were filled with giddy excitement and nervousness as I hunched over pickled museum specimens by day and huddled in a small sedan in public parking lots by night (who car camps in the northeast in winter anyways?).
Left: Self-portrait with Torosaurus in the Cretaceous Garden at the Peabody Museum of Natural History on the day of the Canada’s New Noah interview announcement. Right: Time to celebrate with a visit to the incredible Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Yale University)!
During the early afternoon of 23 February, I interviewed online (a novelty then!) from a dimly lit basement of the Smithsonian Institute museum collection on the outskirts of Washington D.C. I remember a few nerve-wracking glitches on the feeble internet connection, a short digression into environmental politics (Isn’t proper form not to discuss politics in a new crowd?), many laughs with my interviewers, and, most of all, the kindness of the Wildlife Preservation Canada staff. A couple days later I was overjoyed to that I was selected as the 26th Canada’s New Noah (2015). From there, arrangements moved quickly. Revisiting those emails and notes sent my heart aflutter: By 05 March I cut my museum circuit short and headed back to Ontario; 09 March was an in-person orientation meeting at the WPC office in Guelph; 11 March was a major paperwork day for a visa application; 16 March was a flight booking; and on 31 March, I boarded my first in a series of flights, arriving 27 hours later in Mauritius. The searing island heat was a welcomed contrast from the preceding weeks.
What transpired over those six months was simply incredible, a sample of which was showcased in contemporaneous writings:
Landscapes, flora, and fauna of Mauritius
Five fast years have passed post-Mauritius. The immersive conservation training, lifelong professional networks and friendships, and lessons from the natural world reverberate through my everyday life, as I expect they always will. In the intervening years I have been enrolled as a PhD student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto. My research, based at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station, studies salamander populations and their biology in our changing world (… and I cannot resist turtle side projects).
As of late, much research has been published alongside ambitious undergraduate students and features natural history projects, including the curious case of carnivorous plants ‘feeding’ on salamanders, trying to understand why hatchling turtles eat dirt, and continued dabbling with the love life of the painted turtle. I am presently in the thick of data analysis and writing for my dissertation. Watch for upcoming works that will feature salamander breeding biology and climate change as well as the efficacies of different sampling techniques for studying amphibian populations. Oh, and about those side projects, I am thrilled about a forthcoming review about the conservation conundrum that corvid birds, such as crows and ravens, pose for freshwater turtles and tortoises.
Two sides of my brain: turtles and salamanders.
As I think more about post-graduation, my ultimate goal is to find employment as a field biologist with strong focus on applied wildlife conservation. I intend to put all of the valuable New Noah skills that I gained to full use! As much as ever, a statement that I wrote in my Canada’s New Noah application applies: “I always knew that I wanted to work alongside wildlife–there was no question. I use the term work loosely because I believe the old adage that a person does not work a day in their life if they love what they do.”
Patrick Moldowan (with an Aldabran giant tortoise )
Past Canada’s New Noah
Since 1990, WPC’s Canada’s New Noahs program has given young biologists in Canada the opportunity of a lifetime. Each year, a New Noah is selected for the coveted position on the tropical island of Mauritius, in the western Indian Ocean.
The program fills an educational gap, providing practical training and field experience in managing wildlife conservation projects and saving critically endangered species. The program equips participants with the multi-disciplinary skills required to lead species recovery programs.