Take your daughter to work day is different for an Irish wildlife specialist in Guyana
'For as long as I can remember I wanted to work with wild animals'
Take your child to work day: “Teaching my daughter how to spot wildlife along the river, although she wasn’t nearly as interested by the Giant river otter as I was!” Dr Anouska Kinahan with Luna in Guyana
Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Dr Anouska Kinahan from Dublin tells us about working as a protected areas advisor in Guyana, South America. Want to share your experience? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about you and what you do.
When did you leave Ireland?
I left Ireland permanently after I got my PhD in Zoology from Trinity in 2002. At the risk of sounding clichéd, for as long as I can remember the only thing I ever wanted to do was to work with wild animals in Africa, so once I completed my studies I started job hunting for conservation/wildlife work in Africa. My first job was in a national park in Zambia as scientific co-ordinator for a biodiversity research programme. From there I worked on further research on everything from mice to elephants while continuing to live in Zambia and subsequently South Africa. I met my husband while in South Africa and in 2007, we moved to the Ethiopian highlands and had two daughters. In 2014, we moved across the other side of the world - to Guyana in South America, where we currently live.
Tell us about your career there?
I am really fortunate to have been working with a great international conservation NGO, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, for the past 11 years as a protected areas technical advisor. A protected area is an area designated by a government for the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources. In Guyana, I work very closely with the government agency responsible for the establishment and management of protected areas. Almost 80 per cent of Guyana is covered in pristine forest and they have one of the newest protected areas systems in the world.
My job as a protected areas advisor is to provide technical support and help build capacity for the effective management of existing protected areas and to support the establishment of new protected areas. Although the primary purpose of Protected Area management is biodiversity conservation, my job is as much about the people who use the resources of the protected areas as it is about wildlife, and while I do spend lots of time in the field, I also spent lots of time in an office in front of a computer!
What does your day-to-day work involve?
There is no such thing as an average day in my line of work. Every day brings with it new adventures and interesting challenges. Today I could be sitting in front of a computer writing a report or publication, tomorrow in the jungle walking for over eight hours to set camera traps for wildlife monitoring and sleeping in a hammock by the river at night, or in an indigenous community carrying out activities to understand how they use natural resources or in a nice air conditioned hotel room helping develop strategic plans.
Being passionate about and working towards conservation and the environment doesn’t stop at 5pm when you leave the office, especially when you actually live in the national park as we did in previous countries, so it’s very hard to describe any day as being average or typical.
To make sure that the next generation will be able to watch elephants and rhinos in the savannahs and have some nature to escape to is all the motivation I need
How do your family fit into your work? Do they come with you and do they provide you with the motivation you need to preserve the planet and its inhabitants?
I have been very fortunate as the organisation I work for is really great and family orientated and understands the challenges and delights of having a family under our working conditions. They are hugely supportive to all their field staff and their families in so many ways. When possible, I love to take the girls with me on field trips, it was easier in Africa than here in Guyana, as the tropical jungle tends to be more remote and field conditions can be harsher than the savannahs and mountain environments of Africa. Also, in Guyana both are older now and are attending school, so don’t have as much time as before.
In Africa, when I home-schooled my eldest, I would take my daughter Harenna with me to monitor nyala (a type of antelope) for example and teach her how to use a compass, so at four years of age, she had quite a different education to most. In Guyana, during the school holidays, we still like to take the children on road trips into the hinterland and visit some of the indigenous communities, swim in the rivers and creeks and do a bit of wildlife spotting when we can. Having a husband in the same field of work is also really nice as he understands the challenges and also travels a lot, and although we try not to both be away from the girls at the same time, on the rare occasion we do, its lovely to share these amazing experiences together.
My job is only possible as I have the complete support and understanding from my husband and am lucky with two fabulous daughters who allow their mum and dad to travel often in a quest to conserve nature. The love of my job, my supportive family and the desire and passion to make sure that not only my children but all of the next generation and generations beyond will have access to forests and water and other natural resources, will be able to enjoy watching elephants and rhinos roaming in the savannahs and ultimately have some nature to escape to in an age of urbanisation and technology, is all the motivation I need to keep going and to ignore the itchy mosquito bites covering every inch of my body and my deep cravings for Tayto!
What challenges do you face in your work?
Many people have a romantic idea of working in tropical countries with wildlife and while yes it is amazing, my job is not without its challenges. For example, working in countries with significant poverty and thus a significant dependency on natural resources for survival, convincing communities and at times even myself, of the importance of biodiversity conservation can sometimes be difficult. Living in very remote places in developing countries, we are also faced at times with the most devastating human tragedies, whether its dealing with a grandmother trampled to death by an elephant, or driving a pregnant teen from a very conservative local community to the nearest local clinic at 3 am and being unable to do anything as she loses her baby and subsequently her own life in the back of the car, so from a personal perspective this can be at times very hard to come to terms with.
The hot humid environment, mosquitos, malaria, dengue, zika, chikungunya, having a two-month premature baby suddenly in a country with poor medical facilities, being a working mum who travels in and out of the country often and not having family or friends around to support you when you’re in need, can also be difficult at times and part of the daily challenges of life overseas. However, these are some of the small sacrifices we as a family make to have the extraordinary opportunity to live in such wonderful places and to try and make a small but positive difference in the world.
If you wanted to come and work in Ireland what are the opportunities like for your chosen career?
Unfortunately, other than lecturing at a university, or setting up my own international consultancy business, I don’t think there would be many opportunities for me if I were to return to Ireland.
How do salaries compare?
It doesn’t matter where you work in my field in terms of the country the salary is usually similar. Although a reasonable salary, conservation generally does not pay as well as some other sectors. However, my work is more about a way of life, making a positive contribution and being happy, rather than the money!.
What is it like living in Guyana? Are ther any other Irish there?
Guyana is a small country, interestingly there is a history of Guyanese medics coming to Ireland to train. I know one other Irish person here. He owns a great hotel, the Cara lodge, and I have Guyanese neighbours who have recently returned from more than 30 years living in Ireland. Other than that, there are no other Irish here that I know of and no embassy, in fact the whole expat community is very small with the majority made up of North Americas and other South Americans. The Guyanese, however, are very like the Irish, they are good fun and very friendly, so I feel right at home here.
My children have seen and experienced so much in their short lives and have had so many adventures
What are the costs like compared to Ireland?
Although Guyana is a developing country, the cost of living is not that cheap and I find food (but not local produce), clothes, cars, electric goods, electricity, rent etc. generally more expensive than Ireland, as a small country many things are imported so can cost a lot more than elsewhere.
Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?
For me working abroad is as much about the work as it is having the experience to immerse ourselves in different cultures. So far, my children have seen and experienced so much in their short lives and have had so many adventures. Its not always roses, but it is definitely something I would recommend to anyone considering it, particularly if they have a young family.
What are your plans?
Last year we found a beautiful country home in Andalucia, surrounded by beautiful mountains and cork forest. We plan to make a final move to Spain next summer where I will start my own consultancy business on conservation planning and management. At the moment, we are renting out a little cottage on our property - named Casita la Luna Rosa after my youngest daughter - which ironically is currently managed by our new Irish neighbour in Spain. When we move, we will continue to rent our cottage and will seek opportunities to engage in nature and wildlife-related activities locally. Although this is a move relatively close to home, it’s the most nerve-wracking move for me yet, since we will be giving up work and trying to come up with ways to earn a living while living in rural Spain. But as with all moves, I am looking forward to the adventures and challenges to come. In Spain, I will be close to Ireland and my family, have an Irish neighbour, in a gorgeous house surrounded by nature, still working in global conservation, with my amazing husband and two gorgeous girls, what more could anyone ask for?
Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?
I miss lots of things about Ireland, but I am fortunate to get home almost once a year to get my annual dose of things. Other than missing friends and family, one of the main things I miss about Ireland are the crisps, we have spent our lives having Tayto crisps posted all over the world but unfortunately to get them sent to Guyana is not so easy.
If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email email@example.com with a little information about you and what you do.