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Virtual networking: An unexpected benefit of the lock down.

For me being a conservationist is not so much a job as a way of life and most of my friends and colleagues would agree. We feel a responsibility to meet our goals to support a community, provide species with a voice, stop the illegal trade of wildlife, amongst others. On top of that we want to feel we have contributed professionally and to gain a sense of personal achievement from the work we carry out.

As conservationists we need to collect data to answer our questions, this normally means that we spend months or years in remote and difficult locations either alone or with a small team. Everyday there is a new challenge to overcome or problem to be solved and as such I found that I become totally consumed by my projects, thinking about them 24/7. If your internet connection is poor or expensive you have to prioritise your activities, normally the ones that ensure the project keeps running, anything extra gets put on the back burner.

As you design a new project, there are always time restrictions when researching and writing the proposal let alone discussing it with your wider network to get their input, feedback and ideas. There may even be people out there that could add an extra layer and dimension to the project but you don't known them and simply don't have time to find them.

For me and I'm sure for others COVID-19 has impacted, well everything! However, over the last couple of months something positive and constructive has happened that I was not expecting. With time and a good internet connection I have started to find, engage, interact and contribute to online communities from ones like LinkedIn, that I have been using for years, to new ones like WildHub and the Lonely Conservationists. I honestly did not know that there are so many groups that link conservationists together as I simply never had the time to look.

In February I was lucky enough to meet a conservationists that I have admired and respected for a long time. They highlighted that reaching out, asking questions, looking for support and guidance and acknowledging our own skills gaps is not a sign of weakness but shows self awareness and spirit and that alliances and collaborations are truly the way forward. I have now taken this to heart, as we all should.

So, to the unexpected results...

For years I have read and liked posts on LinkedIn but not contributed personally. In addition to a lack of time and internet access was a concern that people, colleagues or my network would not like or be interested in what I have to say or worse I could damage my professional reputation. However, with my new found confidence I see LinkedIn as an ally and tool.

For a while now I've been interested in thermal technology and its application to carnivore behaviour studies. I have a vision of how I would like this tech to be used in a new project but I don't know if is it even possible or feasible? Well I put a post out saying exactly this, does anyone have this expertise, would anyone be interested in helping? As a result of my post I am now connected to three thermographers all interested in being a part of project and our conversations are continuing.

But this is not the end of the story, one of the thermographers, invited me to be on a panel for their upcoming career ecologists conference. I did this a few weeks ago and I got a lot out of it; 1. my first experience of being part of virtual online conference, presenting in my study to no one was a new sensation, 2. new connection requests and building of my network, 3. meeting new people - the panellists themselves and other contributors.

Furthermore, I asked one of the panellist who works with dogs and scent detection if he had a store of scents that I could use in my project? He didn't but he had a colleague who did. Scent is another area that I am interested in as it can be used to deter leopards in order to prevent livestock losses. I have now connected with this person and found out that he has a wealth of scent knowledge and is wiling to share that with me. He is excited at the prospect of becoming involved in the project and is now exploring scents and the how to apply scents in an African farm setting.

And finally..

A good friend was recently a panellist on the 'Dive into the world of WildHub's Conservationists', to support her and see what WildHub was all about I signed up to the webinar. As a result I have discovered two new amazing networks, of course WildHub itself and also the Lonely Conservationists. This has opened up a whole new world of people who, like me, want to connect, help and support each other and I'm very excited about the possibilities.

In conclusion

One post created a chain reaction of activities, connections and events which I really could not have foreseen but I am very pleased that it all happened. Yes I'm disappointed that I am not in Namibia undertaking my project but I can use my time and internet to find ways in which I can enhance it by adding new layers and collaborators which can only be a good thing going forward for me and the leopards.

I encourage everyone to write and engage with posts, share your thoughts, project ideas, visions or even dream scenarios and you might just find people who are thinking along the same lines and can help you make it a reality, together!

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