By Nahrain John, Communications Associate & Fiona Tran, HR Advisor
AWC is committed to the long-term delivery of science-based conservation. Part of achieving this is ensuring the next generation of ecologists receive the practical, hands-on field experience they need to take today’s conservation efforts far into the future.
In 2008, thanks to a donation from long-time supporter Ross Knowles, AWC established its comprehensive Conservation and Ecology Internship Program. Launching with a single intern, the program has since expanded to an average of 13 interns per year. This year has seen the largest intake of interns on record, 15, a significant increase after a reduced intake in 2020 due to Covid-19. Earlier this year a second major milestone was reached, with the graduation of AWC’s 100th intern.
The milestone was welcomed by AWC’s Chief Science Officer, Dr John Kanowski, who said
“The intern program has become the primary way AWC selects entry-level ecologists for our science program. During their internship, the interns get to figure out whether applied conservation science is what they want to do, and we get to know each intern and their compatibility with our business.”
Recognised nationwide, the program provides talented conservation scientists with valuable field experience and opportunities to tackle real-world conservation challenges. During a three-to-six-month internship, interns are supervised and mentored by AWC’s experienced ecologists and participate in various projects from studying feral cat ecology, conducting biodiversity surveys, GPS-tracking wildlife and animal handling.
Looking forward, we have a long-term strong advocate in AWC supporter, Jim Phillipson, Director of Rendere Trust, Environmental Funders, who says “AWC has established this exciting template for world-class conservation internships. It’s a model I‘m seeing replicated across the environmental sector. I encourage everyone – especially corporate Australia – to support it.”
Among the 100 graduating interns is Aiden Wright from North Head Sanctuary. After wrapping up his internship in July 2021, Aiden joined the 62 per cent of interns who secure a permanent or contract role with AWC (18 graduate interns are currently employed by AWC). Now an AWC Field Ecologist, Aiden said the internship equipped him with the knowledge, confidence and practical skills to make meaningful contributions to Australia’s conservation landscape.
“Going into my internship, I didn’t expect my daily experiences to be so varied – no two weeks ended up being the same,” Aiden said. “One week I was at North Head checking nest boxes for Eastern Pygmy Possums and the next I was at Scotia spotlighting for Bilbies and Burrowing Bettongs.
Not only was I able to get amongst some unique Australian environments but knowing that the actions you are undertaking are for the benefit of biodiversity is extremely rewarding. I enjoyed how much there was to learn; from handling animals to gaining the confidence to lead survey teams, while continually developing the ability to identify unique Australian fauna and flora.
The looming threat of a changing climate and a rolling tide of species extinctions can be disheartening for someone looking to enter a career in conservation. However, my internship with AWC reinforced the fact that if we act with urgency, we can truly make a difference.”
For young ecologist and current AWC intern, Christine Mauger, the program has opened up a world of experiences, from actively implementing conservation practices to working days and nights in the field, learning from Traditional Owners and even improving her 4WD driving skills.
“I started my six-month internship with the north-east team in May and have been super busy with field work since. I’ve had opportunities to travel and in three months I’ve been on five field trips which included targeted trapping surveys for Northern Bettongs and Northern Quolls, camera trapping, fauna surveys and a Brush-tailed Bettong reintroduction in Newhaven,” Christine said.
“I am interested in on-ground conservation, working closely with Traditional Owners and different stakeholders to reach meaningful conservation outcomes. My interests are in behavioural and landscape ecology, species translocations, predator-prey interactions and fire.
I would definitely recommend the internship to others, as it was recommended to me. I’ve met some great people, seen so many new places and I’ve learned so much already especially about Australian species that I didn’t know existed!”
Learn more about AWC’s Internship Program here.