From a young age I took great interest in all things that creep, crawl, slither, and slime (much to my mother’s dismay). I developed a fascination with dinosaurs and later defaulted to what I viewed at the time as the next closest living creatures: reptiles and amphibians. 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. As my grandmother recalls, when asked about what I wanted to be when I grew up I would proudly announce that I would be a paleontologist. Fast forward nearly 20 years and I am not working with extinct animals, but rather trying to prevent the animals that I am working with from becoming extinct. Today, my passion lies at the intersection of herpetology (reptile and amphibian biology), evolutionary ecology, conservation biology, and natural history.
I grew up in St. Catharines (Niagara region, Ontario) amid a dense road network, sprawling urbanization, orchards, and vineyards (my elementary school was named Grapeview, after all). During my years in secondary school I was most happy riding my bike into the countryside, past the vineyards, and to the Niagara Escarpment where I would flip logs for hours gazing at the unseen world underneath – sleek and shiny salamanders, scuttling beetles, inching worms, countless ant nests, and (much to my surprise) ground-nesting wasps. I worked weekends at a local pet store and I kept lizards and snakes at home giving me the opportunity to gain further experience with captive husbandry and, later, captive breeding. I soon took up wildlife and landscape photography as a means by which to capture and share my appreciation for the natural world.
I chose the Wildlife Biology program at the University of Guelph to train and pursue my passion. I became involved with the University of Guelph Wildlife Club, a group dedicated to nature appreciation and education of the public, which routinely hosted field outings (birding, herping, bugging) and stewardship programs. I was very fortunate to gain applied field experience in the summer following my first year working in Algonquin Provincial Park on a salamander research project. Aptly named BLISS (Bat Lake Inventory of Spotted Salamanders), the objective to the project is to study the reproductive biology and sensitivity to environmental change of the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). My spring in Algonquin Park was truly that: BLISS! I stayed in Algonquin as long as I could, also volunteering on a 40-year study on the ecology and life history of Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) and Midland Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta marginata). I was hooked and found great enjoyment in having my feet wet and hands dirty in field research. Later that summer I had the single-most influential experience of my young life as a volunteer research assistant in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. This glimpse at tropical biodiversity, the value of long-term research, and applied questions addressing environmental perils has motivated me and set me on my current path.
I completed my bachelor’s degree with honours and distinction at the University of Guelph, returning each summer to Algonquin Park to work and later lead the BLISS and Turtle Research Projects. As my passion for wildlife research and conservation grew stronger, I continued my studies as a Masters student at Laurentian University working on the Algonquin Turtle Project. As one of Ontario’s (and the world’s) most imperiled groups of animals, turtles and their conservation have at the forefront of my interest in recent years. It has been a very rewarding experience partnering with Algonquin Park and the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station to develop educational resources and natural heritage programming. I am a strong proponent of scientific research, evidence-based policy, and stewardship programming to raise public awareness for conservation. Through my experiences and support from family and friends, I have been fortunate to develop a curious and questioning mind, an insatiable hunger for investigating the natural world, and a love for travel.
It is an incredible honour to be Canada’s New Noah. Working collaboratively with Wildlife Preservation Canada, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Mauritius Wildlife Foundation will provide an invaluable opportunity in training and field research in one of the world’s greatest biodiversity, endemism, and conservation hotspots!