Putting the Passion in Compassionate Conservation
Prior to arriving at Cummings School as a student in the Conservation Medicine graduate program (MCM), Esty Yanco spent her time caring for wildlife as a veterinary technician in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was shortly before her return to the United States that she met Dr. Daniel Ramp, Director of the Centre for Compassionate Conservation (CfCC), during a conference at which he was the keynote speaker. Dr. Ramp has helped guide Esty along her path of research and education ever since—a journey that will continue in April 2017 at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). There, Esty will join the academic team as a PhD student at the CfCC with Dr. Ramp as her adviser.
Below, Esty discusses her research projects, what inspires her about compassionate conservation, and what success looks like to her.
What is compassionate conservation and how will it play a role in earning your PhD?
Compassionate conservation incorporates the welfare of individuals into global conservation work, and research at the center builds upon this central goal. My PhD in socioecology will explore a variety of farming systems in Southeast Asia to understand how some farming systems incorporate wildlife-friendly farming methods into their production, what the benefits of these systems are, and how to incentivize and spread these methods. This project will adopt a conservation medicine approach through methodologies that recognize, embrace, and analyze the inextricable relationships between human, animal, and environmental health.
What led you to your current position?
The MCM program requires that each student completes a four-week minimum externship, so following my MCM coursework, I spent three months at the CfCC working with Dr. Ramp and the rest of the team to kick-start a new research partnership on wildlife friendly farming in Australia. Conducting research with the team at the CfCC was inspiring and stimulating, and aligned with my future goals, so I applied for and was accepted to UTS’s PhD program with Dr. Ramp as my adviser.
What projects have you completed in the past year?
As part of my MCM externship, I spent time designing experiments and collecting baseline data on the presence, abundance, and distribution of wildlife on a sheep farm enrolled in a carbon farming emissions reduction program in rural New South Wales, Australia. When I was not in the field, I designed and published an informational pamphlet on predator-friendly farming in Australia for farmers interested in embracing farming techniques that promote both livestock and wildlife health. I continue to work with Dr. Ramp on a regular basis to transform my MCM case study, which employs conservation ethics tools to analyze the logic supporting controversial management decisions, into an article for publication in a scientific journal.
How would you describe your experience as a student at Cummings School?
I absolutely loved being a student in the MCM program. I am a very hands-on learner and I think that the MCM program suited my learning style quite well. With a small class size, we got to learn in a comfortable, intimate setting with professors who really cared about us and our goals.
What is the most important thing you learned during your time in the MCM program?
The most important thing I learned in the MCM program was to think globally. This program fosters a new kind of thinking, one that is expansive, inclusive, and analytical all at the same time. We were guided through the process of changing the way we think to embrace a broad, comprehensive view of the world to address the toughest conservation issues we currently face.
What is your favorite memory from the MCM program?
Faced with the world’s conservation issues on a daily basis, getting through the semester with a positive outlook can at times be challenging. Two-thirds through the program, a guest lecturer asked our class what we wanted to “fix” in this world.
One of my classmates sighed heavily, commenting that there are so many problems she doesn’t know where to start or if anything can truly be achieved. Our classmate sitting next to her looked her in the eye and said, “You just have to pick one thing to devote your life to and then have faith that people like you will choose all of the things that you didn’t.” This quick exchange was so inspiring. I find myself thinking about it often as I pursue my personal goals in conservation work.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I think I’ve been successful in my career so far because I tend to challenge the status quo. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not afraid to say what’s on my mind, which in most cases has promoted healthy discussion, fostered strong collaboration, and demonstrated my steadfast dedication to conservation issues.
What interesting places has your position taken you to? Do you have a favorite?
My work at UTS has already taken me to the true outback in Australia and my future research will take me to Southeast Asia. I haven’t been to Southeast Asia before, but I’m quite excited for a new adventure and opportunity to learn.
What are the biggest challenges you face at your job and what helps you work through them?
Working with farmers, where attitudes and practices can be entrenched in a longstanding culture, can be difficult to digest. The biggest challenge I have faced at the CfCC, and will continue to face in the future, is how to reconcile different attitudes toward wildlife and how to promote a more positive outlook on the benefits of wildlife and the intrinsic value of the lives of individual animals.
What has been your most rewarding experience in your job?
Talking to others about the kind of work I do. Many times when I discuss compassionate conservation with others, the response I hear is: “I never thought of conservation like this.” I truly feel that we often act in ways that harm our planet because we just don’t know any better. These moments when people learn something new about conservation contribute to a shift toward a more respectful and healthy relationship with the rest of the living world.