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Claire BROOKS: Unveiling the world of wildlife

🌍🐾 Exploring the Marvels of Zoology: Understanding the Wonders of Animal Life 🦜🔬

Zoology, the study of animals, takes us on an exhilarating journey into the intricate world of biodiversity. It's not just about observing creatures; it's about unraveling the mysteries of their behaviors, habitats, and the incredible diversity of life on our planet.

🌎🐾 Understanding animal species is crucial for conserving biodiversity and maintaining the delicate balance of our planet. Zoology plays a pivotal role in safeguarding fragile ecosystems and protecting endangered species.

Let's celebrate and support the diverse field of zoology, with the thrilling interview of Claire Brooks a Zoologist at Biologic working in Australia.

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My name is Claire, and I work as a Senior Zoologist for an environmental consultancy called Biologic in Perth, Western Australia. I have worked for my company for nearly 12 years since finishing my university degree and Honours at the University of Western Australia.

My mission

Zoology can cover many aspects and career pathways, but it always has the same core interest: animals. My role as a zoologist is as a consultant for companies or government departments that want to do any development that might affect the fauna and the habitat they live in. The laws and regulations in Australia are very strict around how much you can disturb the environment. Before any clearing or mining occurs in an area, the animals, plants, water, soil and cultural heritage must be surveyed, and a report prepared.

My job involves traveling around different parts of the state of Western Australia (which is a very big state, a quarter of the size of Europe!) and doing field surveys to see what animals live there (especially rare ones), and which parts of the environment are the most important for them and should be kept safe. For example, we do a lot of surveys for rare bat species like ghost bats. These bats only live in very dark, hot, and humid caves in the northern part of Western Australia, so when we find a cave with these bats inside, it is very essential to keep the cave safe. There are endangered species of black cockatoos that we look for that only like to nest in tree hollows that take more than two hundred years to form. We don’t even need to catch the animals a lot of the time, instead we can put out machines that can listen for their calls, or cameras that take their photo when they walk past, or even take water samples to look for their DNA.

Our surveys can be in forests and woodlands, along coastal areas, in the cities, in the agricultural or farming zones, or in the deserts. We look for all sorts of fauna, from mammals to birds to reptiles to amphibians to fish, and even tiny invertebrates like spiders and scorpions in the soil and in underground caverns.

My job is incredibly important in giving the best information to minimize harm to native animals and their habitat.

I love that I get to explore so much of my beautiful country and the amazing landscapes it has. But it can be extremely hard work. We have to work in very hot conditions during the summer months (up to 45 degrees Celsius), and often have to carry heavy equipment up some very steep, rocky, and rugged hills and gorges. People typically think of Australia as being a flat country, but recently I had to climb a very rocky gorge over 150 metres straight up!

From left to right

Pilbara region, Western Australia, where I spend a lot of my fieldwork time

Jarrah forest, south-west Western Australia, where a lot of special Australian animals we search for live

Western quoll (chuditch), a native marsupial predator found in south-west Australia

A day with me

The field surveys can be very different depending on what is needed – sometimes I get to ride in a helicopter because there are no roads, sometimes I get to crawl around in caves, or recently I have been putting GPS collars on chuditch (or western quoll, a native marsupial carnivore) and tracking them to see how they use their environment. But my job is not always be fun in the outdoors! My work is a balance between doing the field work and then, like a lot of science-related jobs, I have to analyse the data from the survey and write a report. I can spend weeks at a time at my computer, but I have found that this can be the best time to talk to my colleagues about their projects, collaborate, and figure out ways we can get better results next time.

Left: Some field sites are very remote, and are only accessible via helicopter

Right: About to enter a cave in the Pilbara looking for ghost bats, a threatened species

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Radio-tracking a chuditch (western quoll) that we put a GPS collar on to investigate how they use the local environment

My career path

Zoology can include jobs in research, teaching, animal husbandry, working for conservation reserves, or even in government. When I finished university (I have a Bachelor of Science, Honours, and a postgraduate certificate), I wasn’t sure what kind of job I wanted to get into. I did know that I wanted to work with Australian native animals, and contribute to their conservation. I did some volunteering with several local groups, and some travel while I thought about my career. What drew me to my current role as a consultant was not only the chance to work with animals, but my company's commitment to providing the best science for conservation and the environment.

We continually look for ways to improve the science we do and find better technology to do it. But it's not only the science: one of my company's main priorities is the safety and wellbeing of the people they employ. Your job doesn’t work if the people there aren’t looking out for each other. If you surround yourself with supportive, innovative people, you will find joy in what you do. As I’ve progressed from a graduate zoologist to a senior zoologist, I've gained the knowledge and experience so that I can now provide the same opportunities I had to new graduates coming into similar roles behind me.

Me working with animals:

(1) Measuring the weight, length, and health of a chuditch (western quoll) near Perth, Western Australia.

(2) A critically endangered western swamp tortoise being translocated (released into a new area) to start a new population

(3) Me and a small snake

(4) Stripe-faced dunnart captured in the Pilbara, Western Australia

My experience as a woman

My job in environmental consulting involves a lot of work with mining companies across Western Australia. Mining is a very male-dominated industry. That has slowly changed over the past decade but, when I first started my career, there were not as many women doing what I do as there are now. It can be very hard to spend weeks away from your home and family in an isolated mining camp when you are in the minority or not respected. When some of my older colleagues first started, there were not even women’s toilets at the camps as there were so few females who worked there.

A lot of the field work we do is very physical – it can involve walking 20 kilometres per day in 45 degree Celsius heat and carrying heavy loads, climbing up and down gorges to find caves, or digging deep holes in stony hard soil to set out animal traps. Sometimes people ask you if you are as strong or physically fit as the men to do the work. You can even get silly questions like whether you are able to drive the large work cars as well as the men do. When I first started, a lot of the equipment and uniforms were not designed for women, and I wore men's boots and pants, or wore gloves that were too big and didn’t fit, or used tools that were hard for me to hold or grip.

A lot of the field work we do is very physical.

I have reflected a lot on these issues in the last few years, and I don’t want them to continue. We have created a Women's Leadership Group at my company with women in senior and junior roles, to discuss any issues that arise within our company or with the people we work for, and work on solutions to fix these issues. I have become the Vice President of the Environmental Consultants Association, an organization looking after consultants such as myself across Western Australia. When I became Vice President, my first priority was to put out a statement that harassment or inequality towards women was not acceptable.

Since then, I have hosted a forum for women to discuss their journeys and challenges in environmental consulting, and how the future may look for women in science. I am looking into training options we can provide to businesses on how to support and promote their female employees. This training is also important to for male colleagues and managers so that they can support them too! I have also recently become an official mentor to a young woman outside my company, and I hope I can help her on her journey to becoming a strong, independent, and happy scientist.

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Leading a forum on women’s careers in science, their journeys and challenges, and what the future holds for women in environmental science

My hobbies

I love running. I live near the Swan River in Perth, which runs alongside beautiful marshy flats and wetlands. There is nothing like getting up when your household is still asleep, and jogging in the beautiful outdoors listening to some awesome music or to the birds waking up. It’s a strong “independent” activity, with only you there to push your legs further and make your lungs work harder. I also love reading. I joined a book club with some friends and people from my area, and we meet up regularly to discuss a new book. It is such a good way to interact with people with different interests or views than yourself, and with people who may not be the same age or background as you. I also am part of a small conservation group that looks after a critically endangered tortoise that only lives in two wetlands in Perth. We organize planting days to help the habitat, visits to schools to talk about the tortoise, and help fund research.

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Doing a fun-run

Family and work

Work-life balance can be very challenging, especially now that I have two young sons. It means that I can’t do long field trips away from home like I used to, or as many surveys, and I have to balance my office time with picking up my children from school. However, I have a very supportive workplace that lets me work around these challenges. I now do mostly shorter field trips or surveys that are closer to home. I work from home when I need to, such as when my children are sick and need care. I don’t see the reduction in field work as a negative thing; instead, it means I can focus on managing the project from a different angle, or become involved in other committees at work, or have the time to do better research for my projects.

Role models My role models are not restricted to scientists. I look up to anyone who not only does what they do because they love it and they’re good at it, but who also bring people up and along for the ride with them. For that reason I love Dolly Parton, who is such an advocate for women’s rights even when it wasn’t common to do so. I respect Michelle Obama, who is such a fierce, intelligent, and independent leader. I also look up to the excellent science communicators in our world, who are able to explain and promote science to all audiences, such as Dr Neil Degrasse Tyson, Dr Karl (an Australian science communicator) and Dr Brian Cox.

Somes pieces of advice

I first decided I wanted to be a zoologist when I was in primary school. My mum still has one of my school assignments from when I was 12-years old saying that I wanted to study zoology. When I got to high school, I achieved very high grades, and my school Principal asked me to reconsider doing a standard science degree. He thought that because I was very academic, I should do a more “prestigious” degree like law or veterinary science, or become a doctor. But I knew that I needed to do something that I was passionate about, and for me zoology just always seemed the perfect fit. And now at 36-years old, I can’t imagine doing any other job. I get to travel and see my beautiful country, I get to find animals that most people have never heard of, I get to push new research and opportunities, and I get to play my role in getting the best outcomes for the environment. I firmly believe that your dreams and passion should outweigh people’s perception on what you “should” do. Because your dream could take you further than you actually thought it would when you were 12-years old.

Left: Barking gecko

Right: Western quoll (chuditch)

Edited by Manon P. et Mazzarine D.

Find her on Linkedin : Claire Brooks

Claire BROOKS: Unveiling the world of wildlife

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