Josh Gross isn’t a jaguar, but he probably knows more about the species than they know about themselves. Josh is a conservation blogger and acquaintance of mine from the environmental blogging community here on WordPress. As author of The Jaguar and Allies blog, he has written about a broad range of environmental topics from international traveling to tiger reintroductions to surrounding social issues and of course, jaguar conservation. I hope you get to know him more and learn a little while you read the following interview.
You have done some interesting work in Belize, located in Central America, performing archaeological field work. What is the main goal of your work in conservation?
It was certainly interesting work. I was helping to excavate Mayan ruins in a protected rain forest. On the biological side, I was actually scouting for research opportunities. My goal was to learn as much about jaguar conservation in Belize as I could, so that I could design a master’s thesis that would help address on-the-ground needs.
What I learned from my meetings with jaguar experts is that the main threat facing these awesome cats in Belize is habitat loss – particularly within a crucial wildlife corridor called the Central Belize Corridor.
As far as my work in conservation, I see myself as more of a communicator than a scientist. My main role, as I see it, is to learn about conservation issues and then share that knowledge with segments of the public who might not otherwise go looking for it.
However, more important than sharing knowledge is sharing passion. Scientific information alone isn’t always enough to get people to change their behavior. But humans are deeply emotional creatures, and our feeling states are contagious. So I’m hoping that my enthusiasm for the natural world will rub off on people somehow.
According to National Geographic and many other science outlets, recent studies have shown we could be at the brink of the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history called the Holocene Extinction. Where do you see conservation fitting in with where we are environmentally?
Conservation is but one part of the change that needs to happen. Using scientific knowledge and working with local people to slow biodiversity loss is crucial, but it’s not enough. What’s truly needed is a radical shift in cultures and social systems throughout the world. For example, the global economic system must be radically updated to encourage long-term sustainability over immediate profits for a tiny proportion of people.
You have experiences studying in both California and Central America, as well as a background in mental health and volunteer work. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during this journey?
My formal education in California was heavily weighted towards the social sciences, albeit social science as applied to environmental problems. Regardless, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that the world is full of good people: everywhere I’ve been I’ve run into kind and hospitable people. I’ve also learned that nature, whether one is in downtown Cleveland or a Belizean jungle, is beautiful and worth celebrating.
You’re one thesis away from getting your Master’s degree. Once you’re finished with that, what do your future plans look like?
I’m not 100% sure. I want to try to focus on the communications or public outreach side of conservation, although I don’t know what form that will take.
Do you have any advice for younger students interested in science-related fields?
If we’re talking about undergrad students or even high school students who have good reading skills, download and read as many scientific papers as you can that sound interesting to you. While doing so, keep a working bibliography of all the articles you read. That way when you get to graduate school, you already have an extensive database of sources you can draw from. That will make writing and citing school papers much easier.
In closing, thank you to Josh Gross for letting me conduct this interview! I’m looking forward to doing more posts like this one in the future by collaborating with Josh. It’s great to find another avid environmentalist out there, especially one who’s also interested in social impacts. If you have the time, go check out The Jaguar and Allies for yourself and give his blog a follow! You won’t regret it, plus you’ll see cool pictures of Belize and other fun stuff.