I have always thought that I somehow stumbled upon the path of conservation biology, but when I look back now it is obvious that I was destined to be in this field. There were lots of hints along the way: catching frogs in my aunt’s garden pond (much to her chagrin), spending days at the lake watching hatchling turtles, bringing magnifying glasses on family hikes, going to zoo camp every summer, and constantly reading Jane Goodall’s books on wildlife. Seems pretty clear right?

That was not the case when I was faced with the dilemma of deciding what program to take at university. I was torn and very nearly pursued a degree in math (gasp!). It was in a first-year course on ecology and evolution at the University of British Columbia that I started to realize how deep my interest was in the field and prompted me to major in zoology. After that is when things really started to get exciting! I took field courses in mammalogy, visited Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, and even travelled to Costa Rica to assist on a dolphin and whale research project.

Finally, in my last semester of undergrad I had the opportunity to participate in a field studies program in East Africa. I spent three months traveling through widely diverse landscapes; from rain forests full of monkeys to the savannah where I encountered the magnificent African elephant. I even travelled to an island in the Indian Ocean for the first time (Zanzibar – not Mauritius). While East Africa is an area of natural wonders and inspiring people and wildlife, it is also an area faced with rapid change and tremendous social, economic, and environmental pressures. This life-changing opportunity allowed me to experience new cultures, learn from international scientists conducting research in this challenging environment, and gain perspective on aspects of conservation work that are not typically prevalent in Canada.

When I returned home, my first job was with the Calgary Zoo Centre for Conservation Research, conducting surveys for northern leopard frogs (a favourite childhood pastime, if you recall) in the beautiful native prairies and rolling foothills of my home province of Alberta. I next had the opportunity to work on the zoo’s black-footed ferret reintroduction and black-tailed prairie dog monitoring program in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. Spotting an elusive frog hidden in thick cattails, witnessing the emerald eyeshine of a wild ferret peeking out of a burrow, encountering a covey of sage grouse, and feeling the thunder of a roaming bison herd were remarkable moments that left a lasting impression on me and deepened my passion for wildlife conservation. The successes of the Calgary Zoo conservation research projects opened my eyes to the possibilities of science-based conservation initiatives, and the commitment and dedication of my colleagues, even in the face of many challenges, encouraged me to pursue further studies in conservation ecology at Thompson Rivers University.   

 At Thompson I conducted research on a community of at-risk amphibians and reptiles in the South Okanagan, BC, an area of unique habitats well as other threats. When I started this research, I had no idea how impactful my research would be. The results of my analysis highlighted the severity of the effect of road mortality on rattlesnake populations and led towards informing policy and the installation of eco-passages to reduce roadkill of snakes and other wildlife. I have been fortunate enough to see this on-the-ground application of my research and was honoured to receive the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal in recognition of my work. 

 Much of my experience has been in ecological research and I am looking forward to learning more about different facets of conservation as Canada’s New Noah.  I am excited to be working with people at the forefront of endangered species recovery in Canada and around the world. 

 

Stephanie Winton

Canada’s New Noah and Species Conservation Planning Assistant – Canadian Species Initiative

Stephanie is the 31st Canada’s New Noah and is currently assisting the Canadian Species Initiative to build capacity for species conservation planning in Canada. Stephanie holds a master’s degree in conservation biology from Thompson Rivers University where she studied the impacts of road mortality on a threatened rattlesnake species. She has extensive experience working in conservation and research for species at risk reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds in Western Canada.