How to get started in conservation?

The story of today’s famous wildlife conservationist did not start in university. But in the rainforests of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. With passion, patience, and a field journal Jane Goodall set out to become the world’s expert on chimpanzees. She has been a lover and protector of nature all her life. We show you how you can be too.

From a very young age, Jane Goodall loved animals and started observing them in her backyard. Exploring where eggs came from. It was her biggest dream to travel to Africa to study animals and write books about them. In 1957 this dream become true when she started working as a secretary for Dr. Louis Leakey, the curator of the Coryndon Museum in Nairobi. He was impressed by her enthusiasm for nature and sent her to Gombe to study primates.

Dr. Jane Goodall has become one of the most famous wildlife conservationists of our time. Today is her 88th birthday. She has dedicated her life to protecting wildlife and the ecosystems they live in. So have Dian Fossey, David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau, and many more. The straight path to follow in their footsteps today would be to study biology, ecology, or wildlife conservation. But even without a university degree, you can get involved.

Elephant – Photograph © Ruth Heyduck

What does a conservationist do?

It is quite simple really: anyone who dedicates a big portion of their life to conserving a certain species, habitats, or biodiversity around the world. You don’t necessarily need to become a biologist. Conservation is also about politics, finances, social justice, or technology.

Get inspired

The first step to getting started in conservation to me is an inspiration. Whether it is by following the career of famous conservationists or by devouring everything you can find on the topic you are most passionate about.

This article from the National Geographic is an excellent starting point:

Are you interested in antelopes or predators? Do you want to protect elephants or do you care about the little things like butterflies? Maybe you want to learn about the hundreds of different bird species in your country. Or do you prefer marine life? Even trees, flowers, or shrubs can be interesting. I heard about someone who specialized in the grasses of the Maasai Mara. Or do like to know the bigger picture and care about the whole ecosystem from the mountains, through savanna and grassland to the sea.

Black Rhino – Photograph © Ruth Heyduck

It´s impossible to list all the resources on conservation. But I can share my favorites. I love reading field guides about the area I travel in. On my nightstand I have “Birds of Eastern Africa” and the “Beat about the Bush” series. I love nature documentaries of all kinds. Recently the film about Jane Goodall’s life has impressed me. And so does everything, David Attenborough. At the top of my podcast playlist is “The Wild with Chris Morgan” and “30 animals that made us smarter” from the BBC.

The EcoTraining Blog recommends a lot of interesting sources:

Recommended reads: Safari Guide Students share their favorite books

Top 8 Wildlife and Nature Podcasts to listen to

Meerkat – Photograph © Ruth Heyduck

Get into action

After you have found your passion, you can start raising awareness and getting connected. Have you found some issues in your hometown? Do you have an idea how to solve them? Are you passionate about a certain animal? Even if you do not have a job in conservation, you can start educating and communicating. For example, by becoming a wildlife photographer or blogger. Even as a techie you can use your skillset by programming a digital education program for instance.

 If you want to be more active – today, there is an app for that. Do you like birding? Then try eBird from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. By sharing your observations with them you directly are contributing to their research: documenting species and their migrations. On iNaturlist you can document everything about flora and fauna – from elephants to fungi. There is a huge community out there sharing knowledge and helping with identification.

If you want to get your hands dirty you can volunteer or work as an intern for a wildlife project. In Southern and Eastern Africa, you can find many nature reserves and wildlife conservation projects that are looking for help. From elephant orphanages to pangolin protection or wild dog breeding projects.

Kingfisher – Photograph © Ruth Heyduck

Don’t lose hope

Climate crisis, floods, and droughts, northern white rhinos on the brink of extinction, a small group of mountain gorillas that need the protection of armed rangers. Year after year more animals is added to the IUCN endangered species list. And just as the wolve population in the American Rockies or even in Germany started to recover. Governments talk about shooting them again.

But there is also good news. The Iberian lynx has made a comeback in Spain. So has the Red-Crowned Crane on Hokkaido in Japan. The Fridays for Future movement that was started by Greta Thunberg is now four million strong and growing. There is a new generation of activists fighting every day for our planet. All thanks to conservationists that came before and have been inspiring a new generation. Happy birthday, Jane Goodall. Thank you for your passion and for inspiring us all these years, never giving up fighting for our planet.

Want to become involved in conservation too?

Why not take part in one of our training courses? Have a look at some options here:

An interview with Christiaan Bruins

Do you want to learn more about “Conservation through guiding”? In this interview, Christiaan Bruins will tell you all you need to know.

About the Author: 

Stefanie Ruth Heyduck is a freelance writer and consultant. Half of the year she lives in Tanzania and spends every free minute in the bush. She is passionate about wildlife, conservation and photography and shares her sightings on Instagram (