How to turn volunteering into a paid conservation job

Luke Stahl is a hands-on conservationist who is not afraid to get close to venomous snakes, biting caymans and stinging wasps. He is currently a Senior Field Staff member for Crees, an organisation focused on education, research, and sustainability located in the Peruvian Amazon on the borders of Manu National Park.

Luke is originally from Mornington, Victoria, Australia, where he grew up on a farm and developed a passion and interest in animals. He feels like it shaped the way he looked at wildlife conservation at a young age.

For example, when he was 12 years old he caught his first venomous snake, a red-bellied black snake which is the 9th most venomous snake in the world. Already having developed a love for snakes well before this, he was very aware of the species and the danger but was confident he could read its behaviour accurately and safely for both himself and the snake. 

Luke Stahl with a Golden Tegu. Credit: Jone Troconis.

As he grew older his interests in conservation and the study of herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) grew. 

The only good snake is a dead snakeis a saying that Luke heard from his childhood that greatly influenced the way he feels about conservation. He wants to reverse that mindset and protect snakes through educating people about their importance and behaviour. 

Luke came to the Manu Learning Centre (MLC), Crees education and research centre in the Peruvian Amazon, as a volunteer when he was only 18 years old. When he returned home he attended Deakin University where he accomplished a Bachelor Degree in Zoology and Animal Science. During that time he tailored everything to work in conservation within the Neotropic areas. 

At the age of 21, he returned to the MLC as staff with hopes to accomplish more and create a larger impact. Through 9 months of hard work, he was then promoted to Senior Field Staff. Now Luke has more freedom to accomplish his goals and more influence to help people get hands-on with wildlife and the natural environment. 

Luke believes that the best way to get someone to care about the environment is to get them to see it close up. “If you give someone an experience worth never forgetting they are more enabled to protect it”, says, Luke. 

When he returns home to Australia he plans to continue on a similar path that hes already on by constantly expanding his knowledge and understanding of the environment and conservation. His short-term career path is to move towards marine sciences and learn about the world below us. 

One of the best ways to get someone to care about nature is to get them to see it up close, says Luke. Credit: Jone Troconis.

When I asked Luke about his suggestions for people wanting a career he mentioned three distinct points. 

First, education. Choosing and directing your educational course towards an end goal (biological science, medication, conservation, etc). It has to be a topic that youre passionate about. If you dont have an exact goal or direction, choose a broad conservation goal and get involved. “The more education that you have will influence others where everyone can work together as a population to create positive change in conservation issues”. 

The second point was the experience: building up field and skill-based knowledge through volunteering, internships and courses. (e.g. venomous snake handling, animal capture and release, or jungle medication). 

Try and develop a wide skillset that can be transferable and used in the future to reach your conservation goals and finally, Go for it! 

Once you have all this together dont be afraid to give it a crack. Regardless of whether you are not knowledgeable or skilled enough, you can always continue to learn. Dont be afraid to create a difficult goal and consistently work towards it.


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Careers Advice, Interviews, Early Years, Wildlife