Finding the joy of zoology

A few days holiday in Croatia turned out to be more than just a pleasant break from being in an office all day. It was also a refreshing and invigorating reminder of why I chose to study Zoology, why I loved it, and why I am continuing to pursue a career in it.

It can be easy to get bogged down thinking about the massive problems that wildlife and ecosystems face. If I’m honest, it’s even easier to get bogged down in the small, personal problems – how to get a job, what sort of job I even want, how far am I willing to move and uproot the life I’ve built over the past few years.

Lots of people warn you against making your hobby a career for exactly these reasons – it can remove the fun. Wildlife and nature isn’t exactly a hobby, but there is the same concern. I went to a Croatia for a break and an adventure with my boyfriend. I wasn’t thinking about zoology at all, and as a result I was able to relax and find genuine joy in it.

On a boat trip around Kornati National Park we snorkelled with clouds of fish, sea cucumbers, urchins, and bright yellow sponges. We saw lizards scurrying across the rocks, grasshoppers practically every ten seconds, and a mantis. Sitting on the bow of the boat, we saw a dolphin’s dorsal fin glide by 100m away.

Hiking in Paklenica National Park we spotted a black squirrel, black grasshoppers with bright orange wings that flashed when they flew (is there some melanism going on here? If anyone knows, please share). While I didn’t see any of the unique cave critters in the park’s only show cave, it was still cool knowing they were there and how millennia of evolution in a unique environment has shaped them.

I also didn’t see any of the badgers, martens, deer, wolves, or bears that the signs told me about but it was still wonderful to know I was somewhere that these magnificent animals can live and be wild. It’s a privilege to share that space with them, as just another animal.

Of course you don’t have to go on holiday to experience this. An evening walk in Snuff Mills park in Bristol last month had the same effect on me, spotting a heron, watching the shadow of a fish beneath the water, with bats darting around by my head.

Getting outside and taking the time to enjoy the other creatures we share this planet with is important for everyone, zoologist/ish or not. As famously said by Baba Dioum “In the end, we will conserve only what we love”. Conservation will hopefully be the result of greater engagement with wildlife and the natural world, but that’s not the immediate reason to get out for a walk or a swim or a bike ride and discover what life is out there. The joy is its own reward.

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