Diversity is our Strength – Mariana Nagy-Reis

The wildlife management challenge we face in Alberta are diverse, multi-faceted, and complex. Defining innovative ways to meet these challenges requires diversity in our thinking and approaches, much of which stems from the diversity of perspective individual wildlife professionals bring to our field. This web series shares the successes, challenges, stories, and research of the diversity of members who are part of the ACTWS.

This month, we’re sharing the story of the newest member of our Conservation Affairs Committee.

Meet Mariana Nagy-Reis

I was born and raised in Brazil, where heavy rain, dense forests, and wildlife somehow collide with one of the largest metropolises in the world. Being outdoors with animals has always been my passion. As a little kid, I spent most of my time in the backyard collecting insects. As a teen and young adult, I rescued street dogs and cats, trained them, and fostered them until I found them a forever home. I knew I wanted to become a biologist when I was 9 years old, after watching Gorillas in the Mist, a movie that portraits Dian Fossey’s journey working to save the mountain gorillas in Africa. I just wanted to be like her, a strong female leader dedicated to saving endangered species. I knew little of the many barriers and challenges I would encounter on my way.

Obtaining my education in Biology and getting experience with wildlife wasn’t really a challenge. I was fortunate to have a family that supported and helped me along the way. During my undergrad, I volunteered at a wildlife rescue center, worked with endangered species, and led a project on animal behavior. By the time I graduated, I felt prepared to start my professional life. I applied for several jobs including, working at the Zoo, as a research assistant in academia, and as a consultant. I was open to anything that was related to wildlife. All my applications failed, and I decided to pursue a Master’s in Ecology.

My Master’s research focused on monkeys (Callicebus nigrifrons). I spent days in the field running after them and collecting fruits and scats to analyze their diet and behavior. Whenever I had free time, I’d engage in academic activities and go to scientific conferences. At the end of my Master’s I was full of experience, but again, no opportunities to put them in practice. I ended up doing a PhD. I worked closely with Brazilian local communities and stakeholders and did an internship in the United States to evaluate species-habitat relationships and assess the effectiveness of protected areas for Neotropical mammals. I felt I was on the right track, I had broadened both my research topics and my network, but again I was unsuccessful at finding opportunities in the job market. Science is neither valued nor a priority in Brazil, and finding opportunities as a woman makes things incredibly harder given implicit (and explicit) society biases. In fact, if you do science in Brazil, people often ask you why you don’t get a “real job”, as if working 40 hours a week on research projects wasn’t an actual job. I literally tried every single route, teaching, research, consulting, but had to start working outside my field to pay the bills.

After about two years of intense planning, my partner and I were able to move to Alberta, where many years before, I had worked an exchange student. In Alberta, we were both lucky enough to meet professors who trusted in our abilities and gave us an opportunity to start over. That was the beginning of a new journey. A journey as a respected wildlife professional.

I did a Postdoc with big game management and habitat modeling at the University of Alberta in collaboration with managers and biologists. Soon after that, I started working with species-at-risk habitat and recovery at the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, in partnership with provincial and federal government agencies. I have recently joined the Alberta Chapter’s Conservation Affairs Committee and the TWS Wildlife and Habitat Restoration Working Group. I also represent the TWS Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Awareness Working Group at the committee of The Native American Research Assistantship Program and I am part of the 2020 cohort of the TWS Leadership Institute.

When I look back at these experiences, where I was and where I am today as a wildlife professional, I identify several barriers but I also identify critical tipping points where amazing well-established wildlife professionals showed support and changed my life simply by giving me a chance to show who I am and what I am capable of. I learned to embrace and share my uniqueness and to trust my rich perspective. As a Latin American female and a newcomer, my professional goal now goes beyond helping endangered species. I now also want to be that wildlife professional who gives a hand to early-career professionals and empowers them to become part of the solution.

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