A career journey into the wildlife trade: An interview with Lindsey Harris from Fauna & Flora

Lindsey Harris is the Head of Wildlife Trade at Fauna & Flora, a wildlife conservation charity which works with partners in over 40 countries to preserve habitats, protect endangered species and improve the livelihoods of local communities. She is the ultimate career switcher, identifying the aspects of jobs she enjoys most early on and expertly using her transferable skills to navigate her squiggly career to date. 

Just four months into her ‘dream job’ Lindsey spoke about how she got there and what advice she had for fellow switchers. 

Graduating with a degree in Psychology, quite quickly Lindsey decided to steer away from clinical work and found her first job working for an advertising agency in London. She enjoyed the strategy and analytical side of the job; identifying clients, their motivations and how to target them. These tasks in different guises can be identified in each of her jobs since. 

“I have worked in lots of different sectors, lots of different roles and there are lots of things which are just the same – don’t pigeonhole yourself.”

Lindsey later moved to the The Times and Sunday Times newspaper where she had a successful, high-pressure role leading a research team in the centre of the city. Things were going well, there were promotions and a salary to fit but like many of us, she started to wonder if this was where her heart was for the long-term. 

Grabbing the bull by the horns, she started networking, a task she openly admits to disliking. Yet encouragingly, everyone she spoke to was warm-hearted and genuinely interested in her plans. 

“There’s been a shift in conservation; more and more organisations are realising to have more impact we need to work with people and bring in other skill sets to do this.”

Her conversations led her to the realisation that she had the skills needed, but with no experience in the sector and a desire for knowledge she decided to undertake a Masters in Conservation. Leaving her job to study, she felt it was imperative that she graduated with a job and so was drawn to the course offered by Imperial College London specifically for their diverse cohort of students but also the collaborations they had with some big names in the sector such as the Zoological Society of London, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. 

“Doing a Masters gave me the confidence that I could work in conservation.”

Whilst writing her thesis, Lindsey “ambitiously” applied for and got a job at TRAFFIC, an NGO working on the global trade in wildlife and plants, in a role that once again utilised her transferable skills in social sciences. 

She started at TRAFFIC and completed her studies simultaneously, but with the start of a family she adjusted her career compass anew taking a government position at DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) in a position that better suited her needs at that time. Despite the shift away from conservation, she maintained the goal to return, continuing to network with people like the Head of Wildlife Trade at DEFRA. A simple conversation that may not have yielded results then but has proved useful later down the road. 

“The one thing I’ve always been passionate about is wildlife.”

Four years passed and the opportunity to re-enter the conservation sector arose, with her successful appointment as Head of Wildlife Trade at Fauna & Flora in March 2023. When we talk, it’s early days and as Fauna & Flora considers a strategy refresh, Lindsey has spent a lot of her time getting to know the technical specialists within her team and connecting with their partners globally. 

Those same job characteristics that have featured across her career timeline form the basis of Lindsey and her team’s day to day tasks; identify the wildlife crime problem, design an intervention, then implement it and evaluate it. What differs is Fauna & Flora’s approach to utilising this information, in that they function largely to support ‘in country’ partners, sharing and promoting their knowledge whilst helping with funding proposals to deliver projects locally. 

Shortridge’s Langur captive in Myitkyna. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora. 

“We are about building local relationships and the capacity of people in country to use that data to tackle problems.”

Fauna & Flora prioritise the protection of species threatened by illegal trade in their natural habitat and takes a broad view of the factors contributing to the extraction of wildlife from specific places. In Vietnam, where Fauna & Flora helps in the protection of forested areas where illegal hunting takes place this means taking an organisational view, helping local teams to get capital and confront the problem directly through increased presence in the forest but also through engaging with partners in villages and urban areas. 

“As a small team here in Cambridge it’s hard for us to cover the entire south east but we prioritise the big things we want to talk about and how can we make global links to help.”

When it comes to advice for others, Lindsey isn’t a big advocate of unpaid voluntary work for career switchers. Instead, she recommends internships such as those at Fauna & Flora. Three-month, paid placements providing solid experience in multiple conservation fields. There are eight positions and they are shortly to be released for this year (July 2023). 

She also suggests checking out the website Crossing Thresholds, a platform offering careers advice to women wanting to advance their careers. It helped Lindsey to develop her career plan, seek mentors and achieve her desired work life balance. 

She’s worked hard to be where she is and taken risks along the way but when Lindsey closes her computer at the end of the day, she knows it’s been worth it. 

“It’s quite early to say that feel like I’m making a change but I’m at the point where I think people are valuing my input. I feel very motivated by being here and doing what I’m doing.”

To find out more about Fauna & Flora head to Fauna & Flora International (fauna-flora.org) For more information on wildlife trade check out TRAFFIC | Trade in Wild Species. 


Author Profile | Jennifer von Broembsen

Jennifer is a veterinarian from Northern Ireland. Passionate about animals all her life but increasingly concerned about the loss of biodiversity worldwide, she has made the decision to leave the consulting room behind and help halt this destruction by finding a job in conservation. An enthusiastic gardener, average cook and terrible singer she is happiest outdoors with her two kids. 

Interviews, Senior Level, Animal Welfare