Working As a Wildlife Conservationist

As a nature and wildlife filmmaker, wildlife conservation is always on my mind.

It seems that the world is hell bent on bulldozing every last sanctuary of wilderness we have. So working to conserve wildlife and its habitat is something that I take very seriously.


Working As a Wildlife Conservationist

by Mark Bottell

Anybody with a developed interest in wildlife and nature might want to pursue conservation work opportunities. There are a number of different jobs in the field, such as park ranger, game warden, wildlife biologist and environmental specialist. These types of jobs generally involve spending long periods of time outdoors, surveying the land and ensuring that wildlife habitats are maintained. This article may help you to decide whether jobs in environmental sector are for you.

The Difference Between Conservation and Animal Welfare

There are a wide variety of animal related jobs that fall outside the sphere of conservation. Individuals who work in such occupations may do their level best to ensure the protection of every single animal that they come across. However, people who carry out conservation work generally believe in maintaining natural habitats as a whole, rather than focussing on the needs of specific creatures. They may be prepared to carry out a cull if it will have positive effects for the entire ecosystem. Conservationists may also deem it appropriate to kill foreign species that are harming the environment.

Typical Duties

The work may involve the protection of a wide variety of animals. People employed in this capacity may be required to look after the large and powerful meat eaters in big game reserves. Those workers who specialise in marine conservation may find that much of their time is taken up in the prevention of coastal erosion. There are also opportunities for deep sea diving missions and research on wrecks and coral reefs. Conservationists may also often be invited to meetings regarding the environmental impact of work conducted by major companies.

Personal Qualities Required

When they aren’t working with animals, conservationists are often involved in group activities, such as the clearing of beach litter and coppicing of wooded environments. They should have a friendly disposition towards other team members and the ability communicate and listen effectively. People who do conservation work are generally motivated by a passion to do right by the world, rather than earn large amounts of money. It is quite usual to do this form of work on a voluntary basis.

Qualifications Required

Those individuals who manage to obtain jobs in the conservation work sector have generally achieved a high standard in A level subjects such as biology and chemistry. Some choose to further their employment prospects by taking specialised university courses in marine biology or wildlife sciences. There is a great deal of information about these educational programmes online. For further information you may also want to contact the Wildlife Trust and perhaps even the World Wildlife Fund.

Mark Bottell is the General Manager for Gap Africa Projects an online tour operator which caters to interests such as conservation work and offers other Gap Africa Projects adventure holidays for adults.

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We only have one planet and once we lose a species, it’s gone forever. Extinction rates of wildlife have surpassed all scientific models and is growing exponentially as the human population increases and expands.

Photographing The Beautiful Iowa Woodland Wildflowers

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What was once a land of grasslands, immense prairies and undeveloped savannahs, Iowa has experienced vast changes over the last one hundred and fifty years. In spite of the drastic human development, the woodlands remain the most enduring remnants of Iowa’s biological population. In early spring, the woodlands seem to explode with life layer by layer. The first Iowa woodland wildflowers begin peeking through layers of fallen branches and dead leaves. These spring woodland flowers are some of the most colorful and abundant.

The first to bloom, usually in April, are the light pink-white or blue Hepatica, white Bloodroot that “bleeds” a reddish-orange liquid when the stem is broken, white Trillium, pale pink or white buttercup-like Rue Anemone (Wind Flower) and the aromatic drooping Dutchman’s breeches. Early May brings out the nearly hidden maroon flowers of Wild Ginger, Common Violets in yellow, white and violet shades, the blue petal Virginia Bluebells and the nearly stem less white Dog-tooth Violet. Mid-May starts showing the bluish-lavender flowers of Jacob’s Ladder, white and lavender Virginia Waterleaf (named because of the spots on the leaves), and the favorite Jack-in-the-Pulpit pale green flower with the inflorescent center.

Wildflowers in such vast quantities capture the attention of photographers that film nature more than almost anything else. Nothing can surpass the beauty that nature itself supplies for us. Massive fields are beautiful as photographs just as they are, or as backdrops for photo shoots especially of children or for weddings. Each individual flower is beautiful. Often these pictures are seen on postcards or greeting cards. Nothing needs to be added inside to make these a special gift in itself.

If interested in photographing wildflowers at their best, it is imperative to have certain basic equipment. The standard 35mm camera is a must. Adding a close-up lens or macro-lens is preferred for a better outcome. Some nature photographers prefer the 105mm macro lens and others prefer the 50 or 55mm macro lens. The perfect lighting for nature video or still photography is essential. At noon the bright sun will wash out the petal colors, so early evening or morning is the most opportune time for catching the warm colors that pay tribute to the blues, reds and yellows of the petals. Often times a cloudy day is perfect since it serves as a light diffuser. Although natural light is the most ideal, if that is not possible, an electronic flash will sometimes be a good alternative. If it is possible to backlight or sidelight the flowers, it will bring out a radiant glow accentuating the venation in the leaves and petals. Holding the camera steady is nearly impossible, so the use of a tripod or a bean bag to steady the camera is best. When photographing an individual flower you must get down close and personal to the flower to get the best possible picture. Focusing directly at the center of the flower will make sure the brilliantly focused flower, which is your main subject, is accentuated by a blurred background. However, at high magnifications, the depth of field, which is the depth of the image that is in sharp focus, is very shallow. So make sure the most important part of your flower is in sharp focus. Oftentimes when filming Iowa woodland wildflowers there has to be a compromise of a small enough aperture to have all the flower in focus but large enough so that you are maintaining a blurry background to make the flower stand apart. The wind can be a major obstacle in trying to get the perfect picture. Increasing the shutter speed on your camera will help alleviate that problem. If the light is dim, you may have to increase the ISO of your camera to accomplish that.

Fortunately, the tall trees that canopy the wild flowers are the last to leaf out. Once they are in full leaf, they block out the sunlight that is necessary for the wildflowers to survive. Regrettably, this marks the end of their season and the Iowa woodland wildflowers disappear until the beginning of the next spring thaw.

How Fire Shaped the Tallgrass Prairies of America’s Heartland

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Tallgrass prairie fires were once a common occurrence, and had a considerable impact on nature and wildlife. Such fires were typically the result of lightning strikes that occurred during the frequent thunderstorms experienced by the region. Because of the area’s dry conditions, high winds, and absence of obstructions, fires would spread quickly and could travel quite far. This prevented the growth of woody vegetation such as trees, which resulted in the grass-filled ecosystems that are now seen throughout the prairie states.

Prior to European settlers entering the region, indigenous Native American tribes often started fires as way to manage wildlife. Such fires were a tool to drive bison toward more convenient hunting ground, and the renewed growth that took place after the fire appealed to bison herds, and helped to predict their movement.

Follow Me on Pinterest The region’s fires even influenced the prairie’s rich soil, which was what first attracted settlers to the area. The fires removed the layers of organic waste and dead plants that prevented necessary nutrients from leaching into the soil. In addition, such waste kept the soil cool, but once removed, the sun’s rays could warm the ground. The waste that results from such fires is easily broken down, and vital nutrients can once again enter the soil, creating the ideal environment for new plant growth. The root systems of prairie vegetation are deep, therefore, even if the surface shoots are burned, regrowth takes place quickly.

The tallgrass prairie is a severely endangered ecosystem. Although much of this danger is the result of habitat loss due to development and farming, the decrease in natural fires has had a considerable impact the on undeveloped prairie tracts. Woody vegetation and invasive plants are no longer restrained by fire and are starting to invade these ecosystems. The dead plant waste layers are allowed to accumulate, impacting the growth of various grasses. This will ultimately change the very roots of the Tallgrass Prairie Ecosystem.

Due to the aforementioned considerations, wildlife management agencies are developing a strategy of controlled fires to help the prairie ecosystems survive in the most natural way possible. This is typically accomplished by carefully selecting a day during the most suitable time of year, and creating a controlled burn. Firefighters are present to ensure the fire does not burn out of control. This is an effective and safe avenue through which these natural areas can be restored to their original state.

While common sense dictates that fires are destructive and dangerous, it is essential to understand that they are vital to the maintenance of prairie ecosystems. With carefully managed burns, renewed growth can be encouraged by wildlife management agencies, and our prairies can be restored to their natural condition.

When Congress Plays God, Wolves Lose

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The Endangered Species list has always been monitored and managed by an apolitical scientific group. This changed for the first time in history in April 2011 when the United States Congress removed the wolf from the Endangered Species list. The proposal to declare the wolf as not at risk was included in a section of the infamous budget-balancing act, which has made more than a few people scratch their heads: what do endangered species have to do with sound financial planning? The deed was done by Senators from Idaho and Montana where commercial hunting is popular. Coincidentally, the Montana Senator is up for re-election.

Follow Me on Pinterest The wolf is an apex predator, which means that it has no predators of its own. In short, nothing hunts wolves, although, thanks to politicking, humans are now allowed to. Apex predators are an important part of the natural cycle of life in the wild. Prey species, those animals that have natural predators, are keep from over-populating. In turn, they are kept from devastating ecologies by their vast numbers. A good example is the rabbit in Australia. In 1859, a man released 12 rabbits into the wild. Rabbits are not native to Australia and the environment was not prepared to handle this invasive species. In 1950, there were 600 million rabbits in Australia. Apex predators keep this from happening.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was made into law to protect species from extinction because of “…economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” Yet that is exactly what wolves have fallen prey to. The decision to remove them from the Endangered Species list (or rather, to allow commercial hunting of them) was not made by scientists, wildlife experts, or conservationists, it was made by politicians, who were very conveniently benefited by the decision. Follow Me on Pinterest Furthermore, it was not openly proposed and discussed, but rather hidden away in a bill so important that those involved would have no choice but to pass it. This is clearly a case of political maneuvering. Everyone has seen the movie where, to save the sinking ship, the captain must seal off the leaking rooms, dooming the men inside. To do a greater good, a wrong must be done as well. The only reason it was done in this situation is that Senator Jon Tester and Representative Mike Simpson forced it to be so. If they had legitimate evidence of the species’ safety from nature and wildlife experts, they could have presented the unprecedented idea to Congress (remember that Congress has never, in 235 years, taken authority to remove an animal from protected capacity) in its own bill, instead of squirreling it away in the Congressional Budget Act which had to be passed immediately to avoid a government shutdown.

When politics are allowed to influence the treatment of ecosystems, the natural world is in serious danger. The good of species and life forms is no longer dictated by conservation measures, but by the agenda of individuals. We may as well add the planet to the Endangered Species List, although it would probably just be removed by some Senator looking for votes.
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Nature And Wildlife Is Under Attack

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Whether the results of the human population are intentional or not, the fact remains that nature and wildlife is under attack. Much of global population has lost sight of how important the natural world is to the quality of life for people and the sustainability of the world that we inhabit. There are many signs that the behavior of man is causing great damage to the planet and if allowed to continue, the world could become a much different place for all life on Earth to exist.

The root cause of this colossal problem is the unnecessary consumption enjoyed by man. When things are taken from the world that cannot easily be replaced, the world suffers a great loss. Much of what is taken to benefit people is at great expense to the other animals we share this planet with. For example, when people take on massive building projects that require newly produced materials, wildlife experiences habitat loss. Through deforestation, civilization is constructing a world for man to live in, while taking away the environment that animals depend upon.

Follow Me on Pinterest Filmmakers are the first line of defense in this war for the world’s resources. They have the daunting task of showing the damage being created to the rest of the world. Without these efforts, people would never become aware of the effects of human behavior. Hearing or reading about the possible effects of some action is not as powerful as seeing the actual damage. Discussions without evidence and images do little to improve this situation.

Sometimes the damage done to wildlife comes in the form of a direct assault on the animals themselves. Poaching is the illegal killing of large numbers of animals for some unnecessary luxury. Taking buffalo for their skins or elephants for their tusk and leaving the remaining parts of these animals to waste is the cost of this action. Other times the assault on animals comes from accidental events. Oil spills that occur in the process of acquiring and transporting resources people need to maintain their quality of life, have devastating effects on the animal populations in these areas.

When someone is able to film nature following one of these catastrophic events, people are able to see the damage as it happened. Other larger more complex situations may not be as easy to record. Climate change cannot be displayed in any one event. This requires that the symptoms that lead us to the greater problem be gathered together. This makes a puzzle that must be constructed one piece at a time until the entire picture becomes visible. Follow Me on Pinterest

All of these examples combined with the endless lists of humans destructive behaviors, display a picture of what irresponsible action looks like. Much of the luxury enjoyed by civilization directly affects nature and wildlife. Some of these results are easily visible and require little debate as to the cause and possible solution. Others are much more complicated and a different approach is required. Finding a way to responsibly deal with human wants and the planets needs is the challenge for all people.

Nature’s Noel

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As I sit looking out my window this Christmas Eve, my thoughts travel many miles to a valley in Montana where a family of wolves settle in against the harsh Montana Winter. My thoughts also travel to Alaska where a wolf pack follows the faint scent of a meal that had long past.

So often at this time of year we reflect on the love of family and friends and all that is good. Yet we pause not for even a moment to reflect on the incredible beauty of nature and how little we’ve done to protect it.

In Alaska more than 1000 wolves have been killed by aerial hunting. Ran to exhaustion before they are shot from the air, the wolves have little chance to escape the bullet. Protection has been lifted on the wolves of Yellowstone as well. Hundreds have already been shot for no reason other than being a wolf.

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Idaho has extended their wolf hunt into the Spring denning period when wolves are particularly vulnerable. Killing just a single pregnant female can have a huge impact on the population.

Polar bears are drowning due to lack of sea ice yet no one really seams to care about the changing climate. Why can we spend untold billions of dollars to fight a war that in the end changes nothing, yet we refuse to spend anything on our planet that is dieing.

Follow Me on Pinterest We’re poisoning our water, we’re polluting our air. We’re overfishing our oceans, we’re destroying our rain forests. Is it even possible for us to stop?

As I watch the snow fall silently upon the frozen ground outside my window, I worry about our planets future. I hope that you and your family have a joyous holiday. I hope one day our planet and all it’s inhabitants, human, plant and animal can do the same.

Below is my Christmas gift to you. It’s the most precious gift I can give.
I hope you enjoy it.

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There’s No Place Like Home

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The life of a nature and wildlife filmmaker is often a lonely one.

When I’m working on a project I’ll often head out well before sunrise and sometimes won’t be back until well after sunset. If I’m someplace like Yellowstone, this can go on day after day for weeks at a time. Usually I’m by myself. Sometimes my wife, Angi, will come along.

But even when I have someone along for company, I’m too consumed with figuring out what to shoot, how to shoot it and how it’s all going to come together. I’m in my own little world. Angi will bring a book to read since she’s learned over the years that nature filmmaking is many hours of boredom followed sometimes by a few seconds of something wonderful. Oftentimes she wouldn’t understand why I was so excited about something but was happy that I was so happy.

I’ve hiked to frozen lakes in the middle of July, waded through a canyon river where the walls were only eighteen feet apart. I’ve seen ancient ruins thousands of years old. Had bears close enough to touch, coyotes chasing a wolf,snow falling in the Utah desert.

I’ve seen and done a lot of things in the natural world pretty mush most of them I was the only witness that they ever occurred.

But I thought Hawaii would be different. I got a call about teaching at a workshop in Honolulu a while back. The way the schedule was set up, It would have been easy for Angi to come along and enjoy Waikiki Beach while I was out filming. Unfortunately, her schedule wouldn’t allow her to come along.The ironic thing is that the night before I left, her schedule cleared and she would have been able to go after all. The only problem was that now plane tickets were over $2k. So, she reluctantly accepted the fact that she was going to miss out on this opportunity.

Hawaii turned out to be everything you hear it is. I met some great people there and we had a blast filming around the island. In fact, I still keep in touch with them and hope to visit them the next time I’m in town. John Chance, one of the locals, turned me on to Loco Moko and Plate Dinners. We had a great time along with his family and another friend I met there Constantino Ferrer. We sat on Waikiki Beach at sunset and watched world class films being projected onto a 30 foot screen as part of the Hawaiian International Film Festival. There’s just something about watching a documentary film about sharks while you’re sitting on Waikiki Beach and can hear the ocean waves just feet away from you. It was truly magical!

But Angi was never far from my thoughts when I was there. I knew how disappointed she was that she couldn’t join me.

On the flight back to Iowa, I broke out the laptop and started pulling clips from the trip. Angi is a California girl and living in Iowa, she misses the ocean terribly.

As the plane touched down in Cedar Rapids, it was great to be home. I had been in paradise for two weeks but nothing was as good as walking in the front door of my house, setting down all the gear and being home.

So when she asked me how was the trip, I played her this video that I had edited on my flight home.

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Do Pictures Lie?

What do you think of this picture?

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It’s a beautiful picture isn’t it? One of those Golden Graham mornings.

How about this one?

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Not quite the same impact is it? Would it surprise you to know that both pictures are at the same location? Would it surprise you even more to know that the “mountain” in the background is actually our local landfill “Mt. Trashmore”?

We’ve all heard the pictures never lie, but they do all the time. There’s an old mission in Montana that I’ve seen in books and magazines for many years. It shows this beautiful mission seemingly in the middle of nowhere with majestic mountains rising up behind it.

So one year, I made the trip to photograph the mission. As I travelled up the highway I happened to glance over to my right and there was this building that kind of looked like the mission. I was puzzled because this building was right in a town. There were telephone lines running every which way run down buildings, junk cars. It couldn’t be the same mission could it? Well, it just so happens that if you set up at just the right angle, you can eliminate all the distractions and get the iconic shot of the mission against the mountains that you see in all the magazines.

As a photographer and now filmmaker, I’ve learned that it’s not so much how things look but how you see the possibilities within them.

Here’s a shot from a recent short I did. It’s a tranquil pond seemingly set in a Waldenesque setting.
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You can feel the peace and tranquility in this quiet little spot.

In actuality, this pond is in my housing development just off a major highway, Tons of traffic on the highway, dogs barking in people’s yards. It certainly wasn’t peaceful by any means.

This is what it normally looks like whenever I drive by.
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Do pictures really lie? I don’t think they do. I think they can show us the possibilities that we’ve chosen not to see. They show, at least to me, that there is beauty everywhere. We just need to take the time to see it. I feel fortunate to be blessed with the ability to see beyond what’s in front of my eyes and find those possibilities that seemingly lie hidden away.

Ghosts Among the Corn

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Several years ago before I made the switch to HD and started Silver Phoenix, I had a production company called Pawprint Productions. At the time there were quite a few stories about mountain lion sightings in Iowa.
Usually every TV news story or newspaper article ended with a bunch of people wanting to go out and kill it. Pretty soon it seemed like everyone was spotting mountain lions. There were even rumors that the Department of Natural Resources were using Blackhawk Black-Ops helicopters under the cover of night to establish a breeding population to control the exploding deer population.

It saddened me that Iowans wouldn’t even give mountain lions a chance. You’re more likely to die from a whitetail deer than you ever would from a mountain lion. Even today, they are shot on sight. Yet other predators like bears that come down from Wisconsin and Minnesota are protected by Iowa law. So why do mountain lions have no protection but a bear, which can kill you just as easily, has full protection?

So, I decided to put together this film. If people would take the time to educated themselves instead of living in ignorance, they would find that it is not very difficult to live alongside nature.

Baba Dioum said, In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.

Do we have no time to learn about the mountain lion?

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The Little Things in Life

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They say you get wiser the older you get. I think the same is true when it comes to cinematography as well.

I remember my first serious video camera like it was only yesterday. I couldn’t wait to unpack it, charge the batteries, stick in a tape and start capturing the natural world around me.
I don’t quite remember what was the first thing I ever pointed it at and hit the record button, but I do know I was all over the Iowa countryside filming anything and everything.

I also remember I couldn’t wait to take it to Yellowstone. I had been going there for years shooting still photographs and couldn’t wait to capture Yellowstone in motion. I wasn’t disappointed. I captured moose, elk, grizzly bears, glorious waterfalls, fantastic geysers. I was a happy camper.

And so, that’s the way it was year after year. Arches National Park to film Delicate Arch. Grand Teton’s to capture Mount Moran reflected in a still alpine lake. The Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon, Yosemite all stood in front of my camera lens.

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One day, a few years ago, I decided to participate in a program at the Indian Creek Nature Center. It was a prairie walk. The Nature Center had been working for years to re-establish a tallgrass prairie and the effort was really paying off. Only about one percent of the native tallgrass prairie remains in Iowa having been plowed under in just a single generation. I had been to this prairie many times before and thought this trip would really be no different.

As I walked through the prairie with Education Facilitator Jan Aiels, I was looking for the big prairie prizes as I always did. The Cardinal Flower, Purple Coneflower and the other “stars” of the prairie had always been the object of my interest.

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I didn’t know that in just a few moments, my view of the natural world would be cut down to size and forever changed.

We walked on the trails cut within the prairie until we came to a clearing where the center had laid logs around the perimeter for people to sit, talk and contemplate. I sat and listened as Jan talked about the vast prairies that once covered Iowa and just enjoyed being there taking in the cool early evening air as I listened.

Jan talked about the diversity of the prairie and the amazing amount of life it supported. She handed each of us a small plastic “bug box” and suggested we all fan out and try to capture something that interested us.

The moment of change was upon me.

For the first time I really had to slow down and actually “see” the prairie. I was amazed at all that I had passed by. It was easy to see that the prairie was teaming with life if you just took the time to look for it. After a few minutes we all gathered together to look at what we had each discovered. Everyone had “found” something and pretty much everyone had something that was different from what anyone else had.

I had found something that I had never seen before but learned was quite common on the prairie, a froghopper.

It was at that moment that I realized that I had passed by so many opportunities to film amazing creatures and plants. I never realized that there was an entire world right beneath me.

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I began looking at things differently. I slowed down, I took the time to really get to know the areas I visited. There were so many things I would have missed had I not taken the time.

How many Monarch chrysalis had I walked past and never noticed?

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Now I realize that it’s the little things in life that are important. No longer do I look ahead to see what’s bigger and better. I know that some of nature’s best are right at my feet.

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