Ahhh, the familiar sights and sounds of returning to school. Although it’s been about five years since I graduated from the University of Guelph, you never really forget what it’s like. Sitting in the lecture theatre, a strong aroma of coffee wafting through the air, typing away on my laptop while I try to ignore the faint sounds of distant lemurs outside. What’s that you say? You don’t remember hearing lemurs call outside of your classroom? Alright, so maybe this school is a little different than the one most people went to, but that’s the type of place you go to when you want to learn ow to save endangered species. Welcome to the Durrell Conservation Academy.

Nothing says “Back to School” quite like a class photo.

After months of living on an uninhabited tropical island in the Indian Ocean, I’ve hopped over to the much more temperate, much more populated island of Jersey. Not to be confused with New Jersey, this relatively small island is located just west of France in the English Channel and carries with it the somewhat confusing designation of British Crown Dependency (self-governing but defended and represented by the UK). It was here that famous conservationist Gerald Durrell founded his zoo in 1959 and almost twenty years later, his so-called “mini-university”. Since then, the academy has trained over 3,500 conservationists from over 135 countries, equipping students with both in- and ex-situ conservation techniques, which they can bring back to the benefit of their home country’s biodiversity.

The home locations of this year’s DESMAN students.

Given the fact that the course is only three months, our schedule is quite intensive. In the first month alone, we have covered everything from hands-on captive care of endangered species to conservation management and leadership, with first-hand experience the focus of each lesson. Having the in-house expertise of Durrell biologists, veterinarians, and project managers, along with the zoo facilities and specimens within them, allows our lessons to be reinforced in a way that is impossible in most conventional classrooms. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated as the course progresses but for now, it’s back to the books! Cheers!

Look at all that science! Don’t stare too hard at this situation model because the complexity might blind you! DESMAN students are given a crash course in adaptive management and project planning using CMP Open Standards.

The display for Telfair’s skinks at the Jersey Zoo is modelled after the Round Island field station. They definitely got the stinky field boots right, but they’re missing the sweaty researcher drinking his morning coffee.

Eric Jolin

Canada’s 30th New Noah

Eric grew up in a small town on the shores of Lake Erie, and was fascinated with wildlife from an early age, a passion that he continued through his schooling at the University of Guelph and into his early career as a park naturalist and outreach educator at Killbear Provincial Park. Eric has been an active member of multiple reptile and amphibian recovery teams across Ontario. Most recently, he spent the winter working with the University of Washington on a study examining the interactions between a re-colonizing wolf population and white-tailed deer in Washington.