Archives For ecology

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Jennifer Germano, Technical Advisor Ecology/Kiwi Recovery Group Leader based in Hamilton.

Jen and an Ascaphus frog.

Finding my first Ascaphus frog in Canada, along with New Zealand’s native frogs this species is one of the world’s most archaic frog species

At work

Some things I do in my job include… helping to coordinate conservation efforts for kiwi across the country. The Kiwi Recovery Group is an amazing group of people, whose expertise covers a range of topics, including kiwi handling and biology, research, community groups, iwi issues, on the ground kiwi operations, predator science, education and advocacy. My job is to help bring together those people with different backgrounds to get technical advice out to kiwi practitioners and DOC staff. I also have the privilege of working with both the Recovery Group and others to develop national strategies for kiwi conservation.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by… protecting and conserving one of New Zealand’s most iconic species!

The best bit about my job is… the people.  I just started a month ago, but so far, people in the kiwi community and DOC have been incredible. Definitely a friendly and passionate group that have made me feel welcome from day one.

The awesome-est DOC moment I’ve had so far is… meeting with the staff at Kiwi Encounter and seeing the newly hatched baby kiwi there.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… James Reardon.  His enthusiasm for conservation and his passion for herpetofauna are contagious.  He’s a great biologist, an amazing photographer and a good person to be in the field with, whether it was hanging out with the skink crew in Central Otago or searching for frogs in the Amazon. James was one of the first biologists I worked with when I first arrived in New Zealand over ten years ago and he helped to introduce me to the wildlife and the unique conservation problems that we face here.  Also, while some people are scientists and others are more interested in on-the-ground wildlife management, James showed that it was possible and advantageous to blend the two in order to help save a species from extinction.

Jen packrafting in the Colorado River.

Packrafting in the Colorado River

On a personal note…

My most recent stomping ground was… Red Rock Canyon in Southern Nevada, USA.  I just returned to New Zealand after doing translocation research on desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert for the last few years.  Red Rock had some of the best rock climbing in the states, plus it was a beautiful corner of the Mojave full of wildlife (desert tortoises, big horn sheep, snakes, lizards) and amazing landscapes.  I’m still finding my way around Hamilton and looking for some new stomping grounds around here.

If I could trade places with any other person for a week—famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional—it would be… Jane Goodall while she was working with the chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania.  She was able to combine being a conservationist, a scientist, a mother, and an educator and has inspired people worldwide to care about, not only the chimps in Africa, but about protecting the environment and the world that we live in.

Jen radio tracking desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert.

Radio tracking desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert

My best ever holiday was… spending a summer in Ecuador with my sister.  We were living with some families down there learning Spanish and because our travel agent messed up some of our plans, they squeezed us into a couple empty spaces on a boat visiting the Galapagos to pay us back. It was the trip of a lifetime. Amazing wildlife!  Albatross mating, blue-footed booby birds, giant tortoises, marine iguanas. We snorkelled with sea turtles and seals, snuck up on some flamingos, and stood in the shallow waters on a beach while the sting rays washed over our feet with the incoming waves.  It was an amazing adventure to share with my sister… I wish I could go back again one day!

My greatest sporting moment was when… I finished the Memphis Road Race Series, which included two 5k, two 5-mile, two 10k, two 10-mile, and two half marathon races over a 10 week period. It definitely showed that with a bit of hard work and determination, I could accomplish anything and that by surrounding myself with enthusiastic and passionate people, I could be inspired to do things that I never would have attempted on my own.

My secret indulgence is… anything chocolate!

Jen kayaking on the left and tramping on the right.

Left: Kayaking near Vancouver Island Right: Tramping near Mount Cook

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… go out and do something amazing.

In work and life I am motivated by… the fact that we are all capable of making the world a better place in some way, whether it is big or small.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… take the time to help others appreciate the natural world around them. Passion for conservation can be contagious, so share your love of the outdoors and help others to get outside.  It’s only when people understand and have a connection to nature that they’ll make the effort to help protect it.

Jen and family at the Vernal Falls, USA.

Family camping trip at Yosemite National Park, USA.

Question of the week…

What did you want to be ‘when you grew up?

I thought I wanted to be a palaeontologist. I had quite a collection of rocks with little fossils in them that I had found behind my parents’ home and as a kid always had dreams of finding a dinosaur. When I started uni, I did a heap of geology papers and then spent my first summer as a palaeontology intern. But after spending 40 hours a week staring through a microscope sorting out microfossils from buckets of sand, I decided that I’d rather be in the field studying animals that were still alive rather than the remains of dead ones.

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Jess Scrimgeour, Technical Advisor – Ecology.

Name: Jess Scrimgeour (I’ve seen a variety of wonderful and creative spelling errors of my last name, but my favourite has always been Mrs. Scrimblabla).

Position: Technical Advisor – Ecology (Tongariro/Whanganui/Taranaki)

Jess Scrimgeour climbing up a cliff at Ruapehu with Ngauruhoe.

Out on a beautiful day climbing at Ruapehu, with Ngauruhoe in the background. Can you believe it’s only a half hour drive from home?

At work

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I work with the Department of Conservation in different areas to help them to do what they do best, and often have conversations with rangers/programme managers/community groups around “Are we doing things right? Can we do them better? And if so, how?”. Then I (hopefully) can help find a better way of doing things, whether this be through designing robust monitoring studies, training people, doing some data crunching or talking to someone who knows the answers I don’t and taking the credit for their smarts. So if you think you’ve got an ecological problem that you need a hand with, give me (or any other technical advisor) a yell. I’m told I can be quite useful at times.

Oh, and I occasionally get pulled to the front desk to identify cool critters that the public bring in; just recently a wriggling of maggots. Did anyone else know that that’s what a group of maggots is called? I had to look it up.

Jess Scrimgeour climbing up a cliff at Ruapehu with Ngauruhoe.

With my husband Ben on our recent trip to Oz, and as you can see we were ridiculously excited to be there

What is the best part about your job?

Only one thing? I suppose it’s the small things that are best (shout out to all the shorties!); when I’ve helped someone with a problem and we get to a good solution at the end. It’s a feeling of teamwork, of being useful and that maybe today we might have made a difference. Those are the days I love the best. And that has a lot to do with the fact that I am very lucky to work with a great bunch of people in DOC.

What is the hardest part about your job?

My husband once said that if my pay stretched to include all the hours I think about work outside of work hours, I’d only be paid a pittance. He didn’t actually use the word pittance, because he doesn’t really talk like that, but I think it’s a rather dashing word. I am yet to learn how to leave work at work, and find it intrudes at the most inopportune (another dashing word!) time.

A dead cat pictured with remains of over 100 short tailed bats that it killed.

A dark few days whilst doing short-tailed bat monitoring in Rangataua Forest. This cat pulled over a hundred bats from two roost trees in the space of a week before we caught him. Lesson: cats are bad

What led you to your role in DOC?

I grew up in a National Park in South Africa, and from a young age wanted to be a wildlife ranger like my best friend’s dad. I’d like to say it was because at such a tender age I’d already developed strong conservation ethics, but truth be told it was the lure of adventure and heroism, with dreams of saving the world from poachers, and staring off with my binoculars, serious and intent on my purpose (and the wind in my hair for added heroic effect). I didn’t waver (much) from this dream when moving to NZ, and I like to think I work in conservation now for all the right reasons—but every now and then I stare off in to the distance, humming my own theme song….

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

Well, I’ve just been on a climbing trip to Australia for three weeks, and work has yet to delight me with a better highlight. For other climbers out there, we went to Blue Mountains, Freycinet and Mt Arapiles. It was awesome.

The rule of 3…

3 loves

  1. My husband Ben, who gave me the name Scrimgeour. He also works for DOC so is likely to read this, so I better watch my tongue. Hi Ben!
  2. Being outside on a beautiful day climbing with friends. What I mean by this is maybe two or three climbs, with the majority of the day being used to talk about all the epic climbing we have done on all the other days when we climbed so epically (no one can ever name any specific examples of those days though…).
  3. My back garden, which through some trials and many an error was transformed from a weedy corner in to a sanctuary of native plants, a pond and a beautiful bench Ben built for me. Turns out the pond breeds mosquitoes like you wouldn’t believe, but I love it still.
An image of Jess Scrimgeour's garden with a bench built by her husband Ben.

My lovely garden. This was taken about two years ago, so it’s much more established now. Check out the bench Ben built, it weighs a tonne but no better place to lie and read a book in the sun

3 pet peeves (I hope these aren’t supposed to be rational)

  1. When I can hear someone chewing food, I physically have to remove myself from the sound.  It has the same effect on my nervous system as hearing nails scraping down a black board—an immediate and violent reaction that leaves my teeth on edge. Worse yet when you’re stuck in a plane with some punk kid next to you eating his food with an open mouth—the horror!
  2. I get irrationally irritated when I’m brushing my teeth in the morning and someone (who shall remain unnamed) decides that’s when he needs to brush his teeth too. We have all morning to coordinate teeth brushing activity, but after four years of marriage we still haven’t sorted it out.
  3. Busy supermarkets. Nothing worse than that lady who parked her trolley in the middle of the aisle at peak rush hour to peruse the shelf, holding everyone else up on either side, only to decide she didn’t want anything there in the first place. Too late, lady, we’re already in gridlock and require traffic management to get things moving again. A feeling very akin to road rage….

3 foods

  1. Homemade pizza.
  2. Biltong.
  3. Basil pesto.  If I could have basil pesto on everything I would, but I feel like I might die of coronary heart disease before the age of 35.

3 favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Pureora Forest. Beware the magic of that place, it’ll get hold of you and never let go.
  2. Rangataua Forest (outside Ohakune). I’ve spent many an hour here amongst the giant red beech doing bird and bat monitoring (6000 strong short-tailed bat population!).  It’s burrowed itself deep into my heart.
  3. Oddly enough, Turangi. People give the place a hard time, but I love my wee little home in this wee little town.

Favourite movie, album, book

  • Movie: The first one that popped in to mind was ‘August Rush’. Still tugs at the old heartstrings. I’m quietly shoving my vast collection of animated movies under the sofa as we speak—apparently it’s unseemly for a grown woman to still go dewy eyed over ‘The Little Mermaid’.
  • Album:  Right now, it’s Lana del Ray ‘Born to Die’. She has a beautiful voice and a somewhat morbid drama to her songs. But the album listened to the most in our household is probably Foo Fighters ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace’.
  • Book:  If you’re a bit of a fantasy buff, then I would recommend ‘Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. Pure escapism, and despite having read it three times already, I plan to do so many times more.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Life is going to turn out great, so relax and enjoy the ride. Oh, and you should pay more attention in stats at uni—you’re going to regret all the doodling you did in class.

Who or what inspires you and why?

My parents inspire me greatly. They have this amazing ability to draw everyone in around them and make them feel valued. They instilled in me the belief that everything we do has an effect on others, so always respect those around you. I try and uphold them each day in the way I behave, so that they will be proud of the daughter that they raised.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A wildlife ranger! Although I did briefly dabble with acting in high school, and almost convinced myself that I might just be good enough to make it as a career. Luckily common sense prevailed and I recognised that I possessed far more enthusiasm than skill. I continued acting throughout university, but nowadays I content myself with being my own little drama queen at home (and sometimes at work).

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

A teacher. Before starting with DOC in Turangi I was a rainforest ecology lecturer for undergraduate students in Australia, and I discovered a passion for it. It’s still one of the aspects of my current job I love best; doesn’t matter whether it’s teaching kids about native species, teaching community groups how to do bird counts or even teaching someone how to do pivot tables. I reckon if we want to make a real difference in the world, it’s teaching the next generation how to be better than we were. That moment when you see someone start to understand, and then see that spark grow in to action—brilliant!

Jess Scrimgeour standing in front of a class of kids teaching them about conservation.

Teaching kids about conservation as part of a summer programme about night creatures, where we all painted our faces like bats and owls.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Recycle and re-use. Go down to your local dump—it’s amazing the things people throw away. Someone else’s trash might just be your treasure. My favourite treasures found so far are a beautiful wooden abacus, a Michael Jackson vinyl record in perfect working condition, and a hand painted picture of Mt Ngauruhoe. Same goes for op-shopping, there’s some fashion jewels out there, even if the wider community doesn’t quite agree with your idea of fashion.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Ride my bike more, and stop being such a wussy about it when it’s rainy or cold.

Jess Scrimgeour holding an orphaned fruit bat with another hanging from her shoulder.

Raising orphaned fruit bats when I taught rainforest ecology in Australia

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

A short-tailed bat. They roost together in their thousands; they seem to me to have a great capacity for friendship and loyalty (my aversion to sharing a bathroom may not stand me in good stead here though). They might be small, but when threatened they’re feisty things. Even grown men have a healthy respect for those teeth when handling them. And they break the universal rule of the bat world each night by walking the earth. That’s pretty awesome.

Pre-DOC I taught rainforest ecology in Australia, and one of the best experiences was giving lectures whilst raising orphaned fruit bats. They were my most attentive students!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Be proud New Zealand. Our environment and everything in it is without compare. Take your children in to the forest, along the streams and up the mountains. Teach them the value of what we have, so that they might protect it and teach their children too.

We value your feedback, please continue to post comments below.

Every Friday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

Today we profile Little Barrier Island Ranger, Nichollette Brown.

At work…

Position: Ranger, Little Barrier Island

What kind of things do you do in your role?

As Ranger on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island my role is pretty varied. My ‘office’ and home is a 2817 hectare island and nature reserve in the Hauraki Gulf. I share the role of kaitiaki with Richard Walle and his family; his wife, Leigh Joyce, and children, Liam (7) and Mahina (9). My main role involves running the island’s weed programme. 

This is me weeding for Madeira vine on the cliffs at Raoul Island

Due to the terrain, (steep!) the ground-based grid searching can get pretty exciting and if that doesn’t get the adrenaline pumping, flying in the helicopter strop for pampas spraying will! 

I also run the annual reptile monitoring programme which, since the rodent eradication in 2006, has shown a promising recovery. When I’m not involved in these programmes I assist Richard with the island maintenance and operation, the tuatara breeding programme and provide support to researchers and translocation projects. We also host volunteers and visitors to the island. 

What is the best part about your job?

Me in my get up for heli spraying pampas grass on Little Barrier Island. I'm hanging from a 70m strop beneath a helicopter

Waking up every morning to a dawn chorus lead by kōkako, and sharing the path home in the evening with kiwi, bats and the scratch of wētā punga in the trees. 

It’s easy to become blasé about it all after a time until you get to share it with visiting researchers and volunteers who remind you what a beautiful and unique place Hauturu is. I think Marcus Lush (when he visited Little Barrier in his series North) put it perfectly: “(the ranger) clearly has the best job in the world…”
What is the hardest part about your job?

Being away from friends, family, and events on the mainland for long periods.
What led you to your role in DOC?

A lifetime exploring New Zealand’s bush, mountains and oceans; a postgraduate degree in ecology; and a love for conservation, and maintaining and improving our natural resources. Oh, and several years in the corporate world wondering why I was there!
What was your highlight from the month just gone?

So many! Generally, the excitement of never knowing what the day will bring. More specifically, the release of two captive bred tuatara, hanging 70 metres below a helicopter to spray pampas grass on the island’s cliffs, tramping from one side of the island to the other over two days, and meeting lots of interesting and dedicated people as part of the reptile monitoring programme. 

Back in September 2011 we welcomed 28 baby tuatara back to the island. They had been sent off as eggs the year before to Victoria University in Wellington for hatching

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. The ocean
  2. A good story in which you can escape into, whether it’s a book or a movie
  3. Great home cooked food eaten in good company

    This is me in the island boat Hine Moana coming in to pick someone up off the rocks

Three pet peeves

  1. Animal cruelty
  2. Needless waste
  3. Littering

Three foods

  1. Chocolate
  2. Cheese
  3. Garlic

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Hauturu (of course!)
  2. Arthur’s Pass National Park
  3. Aoraki/Mount Cook (Tasman Glacier)

    One of my recreational activities - mountaineering. This is a trip I did with friends to Mount Cook National Park, climbing out of Kelman Hut at Tasman Glacier. This might be the Hochstetter Dome summit

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie: I’m a movie addict! It changes constantly. 
  2. Album: Currently anything by Trinity Roots, Age Pryor, or any Jack White collaboration.
  3. Book: The Torchlight List by Jim Flynn—an excellent summary of all the books you should have read and why.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

A quote by Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Who or what inspires you and why?

People passionate about a cause, loving the work they do, and being keen to educate others— infectious enthusiasm!

Completed Building Project—we rebuilt the Derrick shed on Raoul Island with the island mechanic Ash Mangnall. This is the opening ceremony. Apparently it got pretty hammered in a cyclone the following year but is still there!

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A vet, or was it an astronaut? An artist, and I think there might have been a fire(wo)man period…

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

A research scientist in Antarctica, or working in the natural history section of a museum (a nice mix of education, history, and research), or working with developing countries to educate and improve environmental practise, sustainability, and biodiversity.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

Be aware of your impact on the earth—get online and calculate your ecological footprint. This measures the amount of resources you use and the waste you generate. It’s a great way to make yourself aware of where you can make changes to improve your sustainability and reduce your impact on the world. Currently the average human exceeds the Earth’s regenerative capacity by about 30%. The biggest gains can be made in reducing fossil fuel use—do you really need to drive or could you walk, cycle, or take public transport? Also, careful consideration of your energy provider e.g. supporting renewables, will make a big impact on your footprint. And finally: reduce, reuse, and recycle! 

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. The amount of packaging these days is obscene. Where possible I hope to grow my own veges, buy in bulk, and consider a product’s packaging and its ability to be recycled when purchasing. I will aim to mend and fix things rather than replace them—kind of a requirement anyway when living on an island! I’m also keen to make better use of library services rather than buying books and magazines.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

It sounds like Sirocco has a pretty good life jet-setting round the country advocating for his species and for conservation!

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Get out and enjoy our beautiful parks and wild areas. Make a multi day tramp the focus of your next holiday—staying  in DOC huts is a lot cheaper and more rewarding as a family than staying in a hotel in the city! Encourage children into tramping, climbing, and swimming—and educate them about our natural flora and fauna. Get involved in volunteer programmes—many of them take you to some amazing, remote places that most people don’t have access to.