How I "Got My Wings"
Updated: May 6
Growing up I wanted more than anything to be a naturalist, and have always loved learning about the lives of animals. In fact, my love affair with wildlife began before I was born. You could say it was predestined; my father is a naturalist (and not a naturist, as I would tell people as a child!). This was clearly enough to keep me focused and dedicated to follow my passion and eventually land with the job of my dreams. A Tropical Bird Keeper!
This blog is about how I "Got My Wings",
One of my earliest memories is seeing an Atlas moth fly across the living room. My father is a holographer and had been trying to create the first ever holograms of living animals in his home studio. My initial alarm at giant insects crawling around the house turned into a lifelong fascination and wonder for the natural world. This was reinforced when my family and I moved to the Pyrenees Mountains in the South West of France where I rode horses and frequently observed majestic griffin vultures circling above the house. Even before returning to the UK to study for a BSc (Hons) in Zoology I had volunteered at both the nearby zoo and worked side by side with the local ‘vétérinaire’ at her practice.
During my three years of study at Leeds University, I had the opportunity to play a part in understanding how animals interact with their environment, how organisms play a part in various ecosystems, and how we can try and avoid damaging the wildlife of the world. I was also lucky enough to attend several optional field courses in Mediterranean ecology, UK ecology and behaviour and lastly in South Africa. However it was only after graduating that the importance of animal health and welfare with respect to conservation really hit home.
I was volunteering at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, in Brisbane Australia when I became aware of the devastating effect of chlamydia on the local Koala Bear population, with some wild populations in Queensland having a 100 per cent infection rate. As if wildfire is not enough!
As a volunteer at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, I got to spend a lot of time with a variety of species of bird endemic to Australia, which enhanced my passion for them. However, I must admit that working with Kookaburras was by far one of my favourite species to work with. They were so cheeky that, whenever I put down any of my husbandry tools, they would try and steal them. On one occasion, one managed to fly away with one of my cleaning brushes. It took me a good thirty minutes to get back! The emus were also lovely. They would follow us around the sanctuary like lost puppies, and would always enjoy a little bath!
I worked at Lone Pine for half a year before unfortunately breaking my back in two places horse riding whilst on a short visit home which necessitated a long period of recuperation.
To tide myself over I gained employment in the hospitality industry whilst exploring the idea of becoming a wildlife film researcher. To this end I shot and created my very first wildlife film documentary (please go to the "Films" tab on this website to watch it) whilst running the private members club at Twickenham Film Studios full time and also volunteering every other weekend at London Zoo as a both a Visitor Engagment Volunteer and as a Zookeeper Volunteer for "Small Mammals".
In doing so, I have gained much experience in film making, people management, educating the public about animal welfare and conversion, animal husbandry, and I can make a mean cappuccino!
And I met SIr David Attenborough along the way too, as you do!
A few years ago however, after a full recovery and a trek through the Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, where I learned all about how chytridiomycosis has endangered at least seventeen species of frogs, I realised that I wanted to compliment my upper second class degree in Zoology with an MSc in Wild Animal Biology from the Royal Veterinary Collage to further develop my knowledge and understanding of wild animal health, welfare, and conservation. During this trip I also lucky enough to stumble upon many incredible species of birds.
And I am proud to say that, with A LOT of hard work, sweat and tears, I eventually graduated with a merit in 2021!
The MSc in Wild Animal Biology also gave me the opportunity to volunteer with the elephant team at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and the Herpetology department at ZSL London Zoo where I further developed my husbandry skills and knowledge for a broad range of taxa! I also volunteered at the Wildlife Aid Foundation which gave me the opportunity to further develop extensive bird handling and husbandry skills!
I cannot deny that studying the MSc in Wild Animal Biology gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. The opportunity to finally follow in Jane Goodall’s footsteps, as for my research project, I watched my favourite duck species for weeks on end and hours at a time, deep in the heart of London’s largest park. In fact, I would say this is where my passion for Mandarin ducks, and waterfowl, truly started. However, I must admit that it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Not only did I have to wake up very early in the mornings, but I also had to stand outdoors for long periods of time in the cold and rainy weather.
Nevertheless, they say hard work pays off, which in my case was true, since I ended up with very interesting results, and publishing my paper with Dr Paul Rose (please go to the "Academic Research" tab on this website to read it).
Due to my passion for wildlife film and photography, I attended Wildeye's "Introduction to Wildlife Filmmaking course" in Norfolk and attended three Wildscreen Film Festivals in Bristol. Not only did this give me the opportunity to further develop my wildlife filmmaking skills, but taught me how to raise awareness about the environmental crisis and inspire positive change through the world of natural storytelling.
I met many incredible people at the Wildscreen Film festivals, including the team of wildlife filmmakers at Silverback Films. After I graduated, Silverback Films gave me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a small role in the production of their iconic documentary series, Wild Isles, that will inspire generations of people to come and open their eyes to our Wild Isles (please go to the "Blog" tab on this website to read about this).
Alongside volunteering, I would make an effort to take part in anything I could to help raise awareness among the general public on the importance of Nature and the threats it faces. For instance, I helped "The Friends of Richmond Park" put together a short film to raise awareness on how a new flight path directly over Richmond Park would have a gigantic effect on not only the animals that live there, but people's well-beings.
Link to this Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTEfu3u58Uw&ab_channel=FriendsofRichmondPark
"The Friends of Richmond Park" also used a few of my wildlife photographs for two of their Richmond Park Wildlife Calendars. These calendars help to raise money for charity.
Eventually, after logging for Silverback Films, I secured a seasonal job with the Tropical Birds team at ZSL London Zoo, and did this for a year.
Finally, like Jane Goodall says, "If you are really and truly determined to work with animals, somehow, either now or later, you will find a way to do it. But you have to want it desperately, work hard, take advantage of every opportunity, and above all NEVER give up".
Well I was determined, VERY determined. For the last 31 years, I have been desperately fighting to work with animals, and eventually, with my determination, hard work, and passion for birds, I can say I have FINALLY landed the job of my dreams.
Today, 22/04/2023, I can say that I am a Newly Qualified keeper for the Tropical Birds team, and I cannot describe to you how incredible it feels.
I would like to thank everyone in my life who believed in me, was by my side and supported my decisions every step of the way!
I would also like to thank Adrian Walls (The Team Leader of Tropical Birds), for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime.
I would like to thank to Dr Paul Rose, both my MSc project co-author and supervisor, for all of the time, help and effort he put into my project, and for helping me to publish it.
I would also like to thank my little bro, for putting up with me, and for letting me use his PC to game whenever I needed it! (Especially Fortnite).
And, MOST importantly, I would like to thank Brigitte Blicq-Munday, my mother, and Rob Munday, my father, because without them I would not be where I am today!