Introducing Canada’s 30th New Noah
Like most biologists, my fascination with the biotic world began at a very young age. With summers spent at my grandparents’ campground near Dunnville, along the banks of the Grand River, I was given free range to explore the surrounding forests, swamps, and waterways. Whether it was flipping logs in search of spotted salamanders or guiding hatchling snapping turtles from their nests to the water, I spent my days learning as much as possible from the animals around me. Although this curiosity persisted through much of my adolescence, it was not until high school that the idea of a career in conservation biology really began to take form.
Towards the end of high school, I picked up a copy of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and after the first few chapters I realized I had stumbled upon a game changer. Endlessly quotable, with splendid poetic passages and scenes which seemed to jump from the page, the book provided me with a look into the mind of someone who had devoted his life to the ecological sciences. The insights provided by that book, insights which bordered upon epiphanies, are what propelled me to pursue a career in conservation.
This led me to the University of Guelph, where I completed my Bachelor’s Degree majoring in Wildlife Biology & Conservation. After a series of highly rewarding volunteer positions in post-grad labs around campus, I gained the experience necessary to get my first real job in conservation, as a Naturalist with Killbear Provincial Park.
The next summer revolved around delivering educational outreach and enhancing the ecological integrity of the park, the highlight of which was rapping about sexual selection while dressed as a deer in front of a few hundred campers (there may or may not be a video of this lurking around somewhere on YouTube). It was also at Killbear that I came face to face with the threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake (aka massy) for the first time. As the summer moved along, I became completely enthralled by Ontario’s only venomous snake species and I found myself drawn to the graduate research being conducted on ways to mitigate road mortality for the park’s resident species at risk reptiles. Although I couldn’t know it at the time, the massasauga would become the focal point for the next four years of my conservation career.
I would go on to spend another summer at Killbear, this time as a Research Assistant, continuing the park’s mission to reduce reptile road mortality. After a brief hiatus wandering around the cloud forests of Central America, I resumed my work with massies, this time as a Field Biologist with Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery Program. Rather than finding snakes basking on open rock barrens, the next two years were spent perfecting the art of combing through chest high tallgrass prairie, searching for a species which relies primarily on its superbly adapted camouflage. Needless to say, any and all observations of these highly endangered massasaugas were met with an almost excessive number of high-fives.
Taking advantage of the seasonal nature of Canadian herpetology work, I spent the next winter in South Africa as a Research Assistant with the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation. As if handling rattlesnakes everyday didn’t get the blood pumping fast enough, I put my snake wrangling skills to the test, surveying the region for reptiles including highly venomous species like boomslang and black mambas. I was also able to delve into a number of different research topics, making the most of my time off by developing a pilot mark-recapture study on local leopard tortoise, assisting with the live trapping of nocturnal bush babies, and tracking cheeky samango monkeys through the forests
As winter rolled into spring and the temperatures back home rose above freezing, I returned to Canada… and to the massasaugas. Going back to the rocky shores of Eastern Georgian Bay, where my conservation career began, I spent the next 9 months as the Project Biologist of Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Massasauga Site Fidelity and Translocation Study. As part of the study objective, which was to assess the efficacy of translocating neonate massasaugas via the simulated destruction of their hibernation site, I was responsible for processing well over one hundred species-at-risk reptiles; as well as for the translocation of 24 neonate (baby) massies. Subsequent mark-recapture data of neonates translocated in years past, showed that neonates can successfully overwinter for several years at their new hibernation site and provides evidence that the translocation of neonates could be a feasible conservation tool to lessen the impacts of human development.
With the project coming to a close last fall, I switched gears yet again and have been spending the winter as part of the University of Washington’s Predator-Prey project. Here our team has been studying the effects of wolf recolonization on the local ungulate populations, via collaring and tracking white-tailed deer and elk.
As I’ve moved from place to place and project to project, my conservation career goal has largely stayed the same; to help reconnect a largely indifferent public to the natural word which they are a part of. This means that as scientists, we must reach out to the general public and find the language necessary to convince them that all species, including often-reviled ones like the massasauga, have value, not in a monetary sense, but to the ecosystems in which they live.
To have been chosen by Wildlife Preservation Canada to be the 30th Canada’s New Noah is an immense honour. This once in a lifetime opportunity not only represents the next big leap forward in my conservation career, but it will also equip me with skills that I can bring home to help recover endangered species here in Canada. I’m beyond excited to learn everything I can from the experienced biologists on Mauritius and I’m looking forward to beginning this new chapter!
Follow along with Eric as he explores Mauritius!
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.