Being a tropical Field Biologist and wildlife photographer with Andrew Snyder
Andrew Snyder is a conservationist and photographer currently working on his PhD in Biology in the U.S. He has been doing field work in tropical rainforests for several years, focusing on amphibians and reptiles, and is involved with Operation Wallacea, a conservation research organization that gives young people the opportunity to do volunteering in tropical regions around the world.
Why do you work in conservation?
Simply put, I work in conservation because I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Growing up I was always captivated by the natural world, with a certain special bias to rainforests. I read every book about them that I could get my hands on, and with every page I turned, a new mystery was exposed. All I ever wanted to do was explore rainforests and take pictures of all of the plants and animals.
It wasn’t until I got a bit older that the dangers facing these regions really became apparent. It was around that time that I decided to dedicate my life to science and photography in order to tell more than one story to benefit conservation.
What are you doing at the moment?
At the moment I am working towards my PhD in Biology at the University of Mississippi. My dissertation focuses on understanding the phylogeographic patterns of reptiles and amphibians across isolated upland regions in the Guiana Shield of South America.
Recently, I have been leading the herpetological surveys for the joint World Wildlife Fund-Guianas/Global Wildlife Conservation’s “Biodiversity Assessment Team”. We are a diverse team of taxonomical specialists tasked with exploring and documenting poorly studied regions in Guyana, thus far to the Southern Rupununi and the Kaieteur Plateau. These surveys are intended to document the species and habitat diversity, and also to provide data essential to making decisions about the sustainable use, management, and conservation of these areas.
For as long as I have been studying in these regions, I have also been using photography to complement my research and for outreach. I believe photography and science go hand-in-hand in order to engage all audiences, from the scientific community and governmental institutions to young children. After all, it was the stunning images in the books I once read that inspired me to dedicate my life to this. Who’s to say my images can’t have the same effect on others.
You have been involved with Operation Wallacea for some years now. How did you come across it and what opportunities has it provided you?
I came across Operation Wallacea somewhat by chance. During my junior year at the University of Maryland in 2008, a friend of mine stopped by my room and mentioned receiving an email about a group called “Opwall” giving a presentation about their biodiversity surveys in other countries, and thought it might be of interest to me. I decided to check out the talk and distinctly remember leaving knowing I finally had a way to start my career in this field. That summer I volunteered with them for two weeks at their site in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. I was incredibly fortunate to be asked if I would be interested in returning the following summer to be on the herpetology team, a dream come true for me. I spent the following two summers conducting herp surveys in the park, honing my photography skills, and making incredible friends.
During the summer of 2010 Opwall asked me if I was interested in moving on to their new Guyana site. That set the wheels in motion for my graduate school application, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve now traveled to Guyana for five separate trips, worked in many areas of the country, and have many more trips planned. My work there is far from over. I’d have to say the best thing that Opwall provided for me was an incredible network of like-minded, motivated people in fellow scientists, conservationists, photographers, and storytellers, all committed to making a difference.
What is the best part of what you do, and what is the worst?
This is a hard one. I think truly the best part about what I do is the fact that I get to wake up every single morning knowing I am doing what I love, and that my actions help contribute to future generations being able to enjoy the habitats and species that mean so much to me. Additionally, the feedback I get from my photographs has been a big motivator to continue what I do. About a month ago I was emailed by a former Guyanese miner who witnessed the devastation mining has had on the landscape, but who also saw the beauty in the animals and habitats. Since following my photographs, he has worked to try to spread the word to former co-workers about the dangerous impacts of mining and why it should stop.
Occasionally, I get emails from families all over the world just to let me know that they stumbled on my website and instead of reading a book to their children for bedtime, they go through my photographs and learn new things about places and species they have never heard of. That’s what it is all about, educating the future.
The worst part about what I do is witnessing first hand the devastating impacts of logging and mining to pristine rainforest. Especially when it is local Amerindians that are employed to do this, destroying the very land that is so valuable to them, all because the jobs pay better than any amount of money they would be able to get for farming.
What advice would you give to young people wanting to work in conservation?
Follow your dreams and do what you believe in. The world always needs more people dedicated to conservation, perhaps now more than ever. This is not a field that yields great monetary wealth, but what is gained through conservation successes are far greater than any amount of money, and last longer too.
Get as much experience as you can whenever you can. There are a number of fantastic organizations out there, but at the end of the day if you have something or somewhere that you are passionate about, dedicate yourself to it and you will find success. It’s an uphill battle, but one worth fighting every time.
What is your favorite song?
My favorite song depends on the day of the week, but the one I always go back to is “Rise” by Eddie Vedder from the Into the Wild soundtrack. The whole album is unquestionably my favorite.
To know more about Operation Wallacea, visit their website – www.opwall.com
This post was written by Conservation Careers Blogger Marta Cálix. Marta is currently doing her MSc in Wildlife Management and Conservation at the University of Reading. She comes from Portugal and has a special interest in threatened species reintroductions and protected area management.
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