What is your favorite travel memory?
I will never forget my first journey into the Merendón mountains in Cusuco National Park. I was in the back of a 4x4 truck with my binoculars at the ready as we soon became immersed in the thick vegetation of the cloud forest and all I could hear were the calls of tropical birds I had yet to learn.
As an ornithologist, I felt like an excited child giddy with anticipation of seeing my first resplendent quetzal or even my first hummingbird! It was on a rocky slope that our truck suddenly halted and there, posing right in view, was a stunning bat falcon. It was at that point I had to pinch myself!
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I have always been a keen traveler and a scientist and so the opportunity to have both passions go hand in hand is fantastic. Within this company I have seen research make real differences to conservation and not simply be done for the sake of developing scientific knowledge.
Every dataset has contributed to some sort of success story, whether it is to improve conservation management strategies, policy-making, saving single species to preserving entire ecosystems. I think the biggest change in me is feeling more positive about being a conservation biologist.
It is easy to feel defeated in a world changing at an unprecedented rate in which nature simply cannot keep up, but to know there is this large global network of academics working together to defend nature gives a sense of hope.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
I treasure a hand-written letter I received from one student who came out to Cusuco as a research assistant this summer.
He wrote to me to say what an incredible experience he had and how it had driven his passion to pursue a career in freshwater ecology.
Remembering this particular student after meeting him at one of our most remote satellite camps in the heart of the jungle, it was a pleasure to see him (although nervous at first!) get stuck in with all of the different animal surveys and grow in confidence.
It is important and valuable in what our expeditions can offer to you in terms of fieldwork experience, but I think the personal benefits you can get from it are far more rewarding.
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
Having toured the universities of the UK speaking about our different expeditions, I have to say it is difficult to choose. For me and my love of jungles, I would love to visit Opwall’s Mexico site, Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.
It is a huge expanse of tropical forest that is part of a very important wildlife corridor, which is home to some incredible flagship species such as jaguar, puma, Baird’s tapir and spider monkeys. This stretch of forest was also home to the Ancient Mayan civilization and so on this particular expedition you have the opportunity to learn about the Mayans and visit the temples which climb higher than the forest canopy itself, giving you spectacular views at the top.
I am also a fan of spicy food and the locally prepared food at camp, I hear, is very picante! Yummy!
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
I love how Opwall presents students the chance to grow within the company. The majority of our in-house staff started off as student volunteers. Some returned to do academic dissertations. others returned as logistical or science staff, and eventually it led on to entire careers being founded and driven.
In Honduras we had an exceptional dissertation student and keen herpetologist, George Lonsdale from the University of South Wales. After achieving a first for his dissertation looking at the spatial sympatry of two neotropical pit-vipers in Cusuco, Bothriechis marchi and Cerrophidion wilsoni, George returned the following year as one of our herteptologists.
He was a sensational staff member that excelled in connecting with students while also collecting valuable data about the herpetofauna of the park which goes towards our application to join the Natural Forest Standards Scheme and long-term biodiversity monitoring program.
It is rewarding to see transitions like this and I was proud of all of our science team from this summer in Honduras – it is no easy feat being a tropical field biologist and they all made it look easy.