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Jessie Panazzolo – Lonely Conservationists

After having a chat with Jessie, there is two things you can be sure of… you will have absolutely learnt something and secondly, you’ll be smiling. As well as giving her time to work with Bush Kindy, Jessie has experienced the ups and downs that are familiar to many a conservationist, which is why her story will be so valuable for you.

Hi! Tell us a bit about your backstory

At three years old, I was handed a stuffed toy gorilla and became obsessed with the idea that I needed to know everything about primates, and especially our closest relatives, great apes. By the age of five, I had uncovered the incredible scale of habitat loss for great apes such as orangutans. My mum’s friend loves to recount how bewildered she was as she witnessed five-year-old me ask my mum how I could go about saving the orangutans from this mass destruction. After realising that parents didn’t actually have all the answers, I made working towards this goal the forefront of every facet of my life. 

I applied and got accepted into an agricultural and environmentally focused high school, I volunteered for local conservation organisations from the earliest age possible and went on to complete a bachelors and honours degree in biodiversity and conservation while also contributing to many tropical conservation programs around the world during my holidays. 

By age 24 I was living my dream in the forests of North Sumatra, working and studying alongside the most reputable orangutan conservation organisations in Indonesia. Despite my whole life amounting to this moment, I couldn’t shake the notion that I did not belong there in that forest. I looked around at the mothers showing their children how to prep seedlings in the nursery and I saw their husbands tending to the trees which were carefully selected to replenish the removed oil palm plantations. How could I, as a white person from another land, contribute to the long term cultural and behavioural shift that was taking place which was needed to ensure the long term protection of these forests?

Back in Australia, I tried my hand at figuring my life out from the beginning again, but no matter what job I was in there was abysmal pay and certifiably sociopathic management. At 26 years of age, I decided to choose a reputable and large organisation and volunteer until they paid me to work. Six months later, 8 hours a day at the office doing complex data analysis and report writing and I realised they would never ever pay me as long as I was working for free.

Not going into the office the next week and finding myself lying on the couch contemplating giving up my life in conservation forever, I receive a message from a friend who was also struggling in conservation. For the first time in my life, I wondered if there were others out there suffering too. I got off of the couch and went to my computer to tell my story in hopes that others could relate. It was then, with that story that Lonely Conservationists was born.

So why are you passionate about this aspect of sustainability?

Conservationists are working tirelessly to keep our planet alive, from soil scientists to bird ecologists, from Antarctica to Venuzuela. Conservationists spend their lives receiving minimal to no wage, working in tough conditions with unregulated management and mental health protocols across the industry. The work is challenging to leave within office hours as the topics conservationists explore and manage are all-encompassing, emotional and impact everybody on this planet.

Conservationists need resources to be able to more effectively do their jobs and take care of themselves and their staff. They need understanding from other industries who may be able to help remediate some of their problems or treat them better if they had the understanding of what they were going through. Conservationists need to be treated better by organisations, friends and family to be able to produce long term sustainable outputs for biodiversity without being subjected to regular bouts of burn out, impostor syndrome and helplessness.

We need to start valuing our conservationists if we want to start valuing our planet and its natural resources.

What’s next for you?

What’s next for me is what’s now for me. We need to stop looking forward to the next big shiny opportunity and start making sure what we are currently doing is meaningful, maintained and measured. There is a huge issue in the conservation industry where important projects get dropped due to lack of funding when they aren’t new and exciting anymore and it is important to continue to work on producing quality outputs that are measured for impact so that we know we are doing the best we can for the species or ecosystems we are caring for.

Right now, we are producing season two of the podcast about our community’s experiences within the industry such as chronic illness, racism and LGBTQIA+ issues. We continue to post weekly blogs from conservationists from around the world every Wednesday to highlight the diversity of global issues within the industry. We also are exploring education opportunities for businesses that would like to learn more about conserving their conservationists.

The advice you’ve just given is invaluable right there but what one other piece of advice would you suggest for a sustainable future?

Think small scale. Planting one tree may not seem like much but it is a home for many insect and arachnid species, it sucks carbon from the atmosphere and produces oxygen, and when it grows up it will provide shade and nutrients for the soil. Thinking about our global capacity for change is overwhelming and may lead to apathy, but taking approachable and maintainable steps toward sustainability will make you feel better about your impact and it will also mean you can add more small changes to your repertoire as you grow more comfortable with your current sustainable behaviour into the future.

What would you recommend from RYVIAS for our audience?

Cross-industry networking and partnerships between compatible people and organisations. “Purist” conservationists rarely make as much change as those working with mining, forestry, legal and for-profit businesses, but it is taboo in the industry to be associated with organisations that are perceived to not be environmentally focused. These relationships are incredible learning and collaborative opportunities between both parties and to have them facilitated for convenience would be an incredible opportunity.

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