Stephanie Winton

Introducing Canada’s 31st New Noah

Stephanie Winton

Meet Stephanie

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 horror), 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.

I conducted research on a community of at-risk amphibians and reptiles in the South Okanagan, BC, an area of unique habitats and high biodiversity threatened by human development and activities. For my MSc thesis, I focused on the impacts of road mortality on a population of western rattlesnakes within a protected area. Roadkill is a major and worldwide threat to wildlife, particularly for species-at-risk like rattlesnakes that face existing natural constraints as well as other threats. When I started this project (that was in large part documenting dead animals on the road), I had no idea how impactful my research would be. The results of my analysis highlighted the severity of the effect on rattlesnake populations, went towards informing policy, and led to the installation of eco-passages to reduce roadkill of snakes and other wildlife. I have been extraordinarily lucky to see this on-the-ground application of my research results and was honoured to receive the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal in recognition of my work.

When not stuck behind a computer writing papers, you can find me enjoying the outdoors either skiing and hiking, or volunteering with local conservation organizations. Recently my experiences have included building artificial burrows for owls with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC reintroduction program, caring for reptiles at the BC Wildlife Park, conducting nocturnal owl surveys, and even lending a hand with Wildlife Preservation Canada’s painted turtle, oregon spotted frog, and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly projects in the Fraser Valley.

Much of my experience is 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. Having studied a population of snakes that could soon be lost due human activities, unless we take measures to prevent their decline, this is a field that is near and dear to me.

Follow along with Eric as he explores Mauritius!

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About the Canada’s New Noah Scholarship

Canada’s New Noah is a prestigious scholarship that been bestowed annually to one promising young Canadian wildlife biologist every year since 1990. New Noah’s spend six months on the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, home of the fabled but ill-fated dodo, where they are embedded within a work internship program with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, a world-renowned conservation organization carrying out hands-on recovery programs for some of the world’s rarest species.

During the six-month internship, New Noahs learn the practical aspects of being part of an integrated conservation program focused on invasive species, small population management, and endangered species reintroductions. This is followed by a three-month course at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in the U.K. where the Noah is enrolled in a course in Endangered Species Management run by the Durrell Conservation Academy in partnership with The University of Kent.