As the performers in Danny Boyle’s Olympic Opening ceremony rolled up the turf to make way for props of the industrial revolution, I couldn’t help but think about habitat loss. You can take the conservationist out of the jungle but you can’t take the jungle out of the conservationist. It has been somewhat of a sudden and jarring transition from the Bornean wilderness to the urban wilderness of London 2012.
From a little boat chugging along the Kinabatangan River, I suddenly found myself on a double-decker A380 with the Malaysian Olympic team and then squashed onto the tube at peak time with my face against the armpit of some grumpy commuter. At the produce markets, I must have scared fellow shoppers as I stood gobsmacked staring at all the delicacies on offer and their pretty, pretty colours. Wide awake at 3am, I’d take to eating all the food in the cupboards while the rest of the house slept.
Forget trying to do complex conservation research, for a while there I couldn’t remember the date, time, location or even my own name. Fortunately, the disorientation and jet lag wore off and there was sunshine and sports to be had (two things sure to make an Aussie happy.) In addition to the up-swelling of national pride and the joy of admiring the men in the pool, the Olympics have highlighted all the human qualities that we need to promote in conservation (least of all the self-discipline to resist eating a 3am fry up.) Particularly when working with wildlife in difficult terrain, the field conservationist needs to be in peak physical form with lightening reflexes and light-footed agility. Though I can’t include myself in this category, some of our field assistants could give Usain Bolt a run for his money.
The Olympics represent all nations coming together and this is also needed to achieve conservation aims. A great example is a recently released paper in Nature where over 200 authors from all over the globe have collaborated on research into protected areas and biodiversity conservation in tropical forests (Laurence et al., 2012). Like the well-oiled team which won GB its first men’s team gymnastics medal in 100 years, we work in closely knit groups and have to work cooperatively to achieve often lofty goals. Most importantly, like athletes competing in London 2012, we have unwavering commitment and have devoted our lives to a cause that we believe in. Whether we’re in the field or chained to a desk analysing results, that cause it never far from our hearts or minds. For us, there may not be any cheering crowds or medals to be won nor even a defined finish line but whenever, wherever or whoever we are, we’re in it for the long run. - Stephanie Hing, ZSL Conservationist
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