How to work for an international conservation organisation

Dr Chris Thouless is team leader of WWF's Conservancy Development Support Services, based in Namibia. Here he describes his qualifications and job role. 

Dr Chris Thouless at work

What formal training did you need for your job?

I have a degree in Zoology and did a PhD on the behavioural ecology of red deer on the Isle of Rum. I use very little now of what I learnt during this education, beyond the need to write clearly, but having a PhD was a requirement for some of my first jobs. It still helps, though practical experience is now more important.

What was your first job in wildlife?

My first job was also for WWF, managing the reintroduction of Père David deer from the UK back to eastern China. It was pretty tough and isolated, but it was useful to acquire a reputation for being able to cope with difficult conditions.

How long did it take you to get from there to your current job for WWF?

That was almost 30 years ago, and I have since done a variety of different jobs for different organisations, including looking after the royal gazelle collection in Saudi Arabia, rebuilding the National Museum in Nairobi, advising the Namibian government on tourism, studying the movements of elephants in Kenya and antelope in the Kalahari, and advising the Sri Lankan government on human-wildlife conflict.

What does your current job entail?

I manage WWF’s support to community-based conservancies in Namibia. Our team provides training and technical advice to 31 conservancies on how to manage their natural resources and their relationships with tourism and hunting operators. The most important part of the project involves co-financing ‘joint venture’ tourism lodges, which are partnerships between local communities and commercial tourism operators.

What is your typical day?

Our project covers a vast area, so I spend most of my time in the capital, Windhoek, coordinating the activities of our staff that provide day-to-day support and specialist advice to communities in the field. I spend a lot of time talking to the team and writing emails and reports. I try to get out into the field at least once a month to see what is actually going on.

What's your favourite wildlife sighting?

One of the most important areas in which we work is the last stronghold of the desert rhino. I don’t see them very often, and each sighting is incredibly moving. The species' survival in this harsh environment outside national parks is a miracle, and is thanks largely to the communities we work with, but the animals are coming under increasing pressure.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

When I get out into the field and see wildlife such as lions and elephants in areas where they did not occur 20 years ago. Also, when I attend village meetings and hear people talking about their changed attitudes to conservation and the new benefits, especially employment, that have come to them through the conservancy movement.


How you can get started 

· Some WWF offices offer internships. If you are already at a professional level, new job opportunities are widely advertised on the WWF website

· The Nature Conservancy offers internships on their careers pages. 

· Conservation International also offers internships on its career pages.

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