Career tips for working in wildlife management and rehabilitation | An interview with Angela D’Alessio, Operations Director at MalaysianWildlife
Do you feel empathy and compassion for animals and want to help? Would you like to find out what a career in wildlife management and rehabilitation is really like, and how to take care of yourself while caring for wildlife?
Get first-hand insights from Angela D’Alessio, Operations Director at MalaysianWildlife, an organisation on a mission to help save endangered animals and their habitats by supporting local grassroots conservation projects through volunteering and internships.
Why do you work in conservation?
I am dedicating my skills and passion to wildlife management and rehabilitation because I have a strong empathy towards all living beings. Especially, I love veterinary and behavioural science. Furthermore, my previous management experience benefits non-profit organisations. So, these NGOs can implement Quality Management to increase and strengthen visibility, impact and credibility.
What are the main activities in your current role?
Currently, I am building and implementing a Songbird rescue centre in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. My role is the overall design. Furthermore, I build local capacity through my Indonesian colleagues who will eventually be working at the rescue centre
Also, I have just joined Malaysian Wildlife as Director of Operations. I connect with grassroots conservation projects to offer wildlife conservation consultancy. Plus, I coach interns, volunteers and accompany conservation-travel expeditions.
What’s the best part of the job?
Learning about wildlife species I have not had the pleasure to work with before.
I have worked in Wildlife Management and Rehabilitation in North Sulawesi which is situated in the Wallacea region, one of the biggest biodiversity hotspots in the world. I have worked with endemic species, among which the Sulawesi macaques (Nigra, Nigrescens, Hecki, Tonkean, Maura) Bear cuscus, Babirusa, a variety of cockatoos and lorikeets, eagles, hornbills, Papuan wallaby, reticulated pythons, salt-water crocodiles, cassowaries. Also, I have cared for Orangutans, long tailed macaques, slow lorises, gibbons, langurs, and sun bears. All these animals were intercepted from the illegal trade and brought to our centre.
Having to deal with so many varieties and species allowed me to constantly study new ways to take care of these animals. This was difficult at times as many Sulawesi endemics (like the bear cuscus) are very under-researched
My curiosity and passion to want to save all these animals pushed me to go back to school and graduate as a Veterinary nurse. In this way, I can professionalize my role in Wildlife Management and Rehabilitation.
Another benefit is getting to know new approaches to conservation, languages, cultures and traditions. Plus, connecting with like-minded people to create a solid network of conservationists that all have the same goal: conserve our precious planet and earthlings.
What’s the worst part of the job?
Having to deal with environmental colonialism and the greed of those who are unwilling to see the long-term effects of their actions on Nature and our future generations
What are you most proud of so far?
My adventure began 10 years ago as a Wildlife volunteer for Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue centre in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, where I have been a Wildlife Rehabilitator for over 350 confiscated animals. I handled at least 25 different species: I worked with over 60 Black crested macaques, to form family groups and make them ready for release. Plus, I have rehabilitated hundreds of Cockatoos and lorikeets, and successfully repatriated the 2 orangutans and a Javan leopard to their native regions.
Two years ago, I moved to West Kalimantan to join Planet Indonesia (YPI) to help implement the first Songbird rescue centre in Indonesia together with YPI’s new ex-situ conservation department: Wak Gatak. The work here focusses on tackling the illegal wildlife trade, with the much-needed new songbird rescue centre which will be launched soon!
After almost a decade on the rescue centre front, I am now focusing on the wider conservation community. Fortunately, this is when I met Barbara de Waard of Malaysian Wildlife, early in 2020.
We are since working together on a model that combines capacity and consultancy in wildlife management and rehabilitation. We are able to coach and connect awesome young conservationists by partnering with ethical wildlife rescue centres in Malaysia and Indonesia.
What key steps in your conservation career have you taken?
- Never stop learning. Our branch is constantly evolving, especially when it comes to wildlife management. The veterinary, behavioural and husbandry studies of many wildlife species are still far from determined.
- Keep an open mind. Let yourself be inspired by those who cross your path: it could be a big conservation icon, a volunteer, a visitor, or a wildlife species you have never seen before.
- Understand the local culture. I worked hard to learn the Indonesian language: being able to communicate with peers and local management is crucial for building trust and friendships. Crucially, an understanding of the local culture and traditions will allow you to operate from the local perspective rather than your own.
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
- Linking in-situ and ex-situ conservation is vital
The illegal wildlife trade is driven top-down and bottom-up: on one side by the socio-economic inequalities in rural communities and on the other by the lack of regulations, law enforcement and capacity of the government to recognize and/or fight environmental crimes.
By adopting a holistic approach between In-situ and ex-situ conservation programmes, we stimulate genuine and respectful protection of the environment. I am an avid supporter of this model, also adopted by Planet Indonesia and Malaysian Wildlife. It has proven highly effective.
- Look after your physical and mental health
Compassion fatigue is real: even if we dedicate our lives to the cause, we should first and foremost care about our physical and mental health! Compassion fatigue is a condition caused by a constant confrontation with distressing situations.
Working with wildlife that has been abused and trafficked in the most horrible conditions is hard work, not only physically but also mentally. I have dealt with a great number of deaths, mutilations, unnatural behaviours. I found myself depressed and feeling like what I was trying to do was never enough.
I have managed to get out of the “depressed conservationist syndrome” by traveling to beautiful nature spots. Foremost, it is important to remind ourselves of the beauty of our planet. So, I surround myself with positive spirited people, and join groups like Conservation Optimism and WildHub UK to neutralise the doom scenarios we face every day and connect with like-minded conservationists.
Keep your mind open and stay naturally curious, study!
Author profile | Barbara de Waard, Founder and CEO of Biodiversity Business
Barbara is the Founder and CEO of Biodiversity Business. With this non-profit Social Enterprise, Barbara combined her lifelong experience in marketing communications with her passion for animals. Her work is Communication for Conservation. The mission of Biodiversity Business is to save endangered species and their habitats. Practically, the focus is on volunteering @malaysianwildlfe.org and on education @sustainablemarketing.academy.