Real Scientists is out and about this week with not one, not two, but SEVEN incredible scientists! This show-stopping lineup is for #BlackMammalogists Week, and will feature science, life, and everything in between from:
Gabi Fleury (@fleurygs), conservationist/technologist/writer (they/them)
Christine Wilkinson (@ScrapNaturalist), PhD candidate in conservation biology and wildlife ecology (she/her)
Jen Hunter (@jenhunter2010), ecologist (she/her)
Rhiannon Kirton (@Rhiannon_Kirton), MSc student and deer researcher (she/her)
Kendall Calhoun (@kenleecalhoun), PhD student studying wildlife response to wildfires
Kaylee Arnold (@Black_Ecologist), PhD student in disease ecology (she/her)
Brittany Munson (@whalesfargeaux), Educator/Naturalist/Marine Biologist (she/her)
Real Scientists caught up with organizers Gabi, Christine, and Kaylee to hear more about how #BlackMammalogists Week came about, and their work so far:
Welcome to real Scientists! Can you tell us how #BlackMammalogistsWeek got started?
Christine: #BlackMammalogists Week began back in June, when Rhiannon Kirton, Rae Wynn-Grant, and I [Christine Wilkinson] noticed that there was a real need to connect Black mammalogists with one another, and to show young and aspiring mammalogists and mammal enthusiasts that there are many of us out there. We wanted to find a way to reach out to scholars and the public to find each other and to facilitate tangible ways to connect with and support each other in the short and long term. Though Black Mammalogists Week is a direct response to systemic racism in the USA and how that impacts Black scholars, we wanted to reach a global audience and also connect with the public. Thus, we began to cultivate a partnership with the American Society of Mammalogists (as an academic-facing arm and funder for the week’s events), and the National Geographic Society (as the public-facing arm). After the first several meetings, we wanted to open it up to other interested Black mammalogists as co-organizers. Since then it has blossomed into an awesome collaboration with a very inspiring group of people, and a series of exciting set of events and initiatives that will be happening during that week and beyond.
What is your favorite part about being a mammalogist?
Gabi: Besides my current study species (African wild dogs)? Working on complex human-wildlife coexistence questions, whether that’s coming up with technologically-based or more low-tech solutions. It’s always interesting and no two days are the same. I was almost a mechanical engineer before going into conservation, so I also love collaborating with folx in different fields and stretching my brain that way. For example, my best friend Jaymie Krambeck, who is a software engineer, and I co-designed a picture-only video game (free to download here) to, without language barriers, teach different methods of carnivore identification and prevent livestock loss. We play-tested it with several NGOs in Southern Africa.
What about mammalogy (or science/outreach) inspires you, and what can we look forward to hearing about?
Gabi: Working with all kinds of people from all different backgrounds. Especially during COVID, it’s been amazing seeing all these fantastic conservation practitioners and people from different fields collaborate on so many exciting initiatives. If the world situation permits, I’ll be heading to Botswana in 2021, in collaboration with Cheetah Conservation Botswana and Botswana Predator Conservation to test out novel scent deterrents to reduce African wild dog visitation on commercial farms in the Ghanzi District. I’m also applying to Conservation Biology PhD programs this year, so I expect to be involved in human-wildlife conflict mitigation work for many years to come!
Christine: Since I was a kid, I wanted to do wildlife research and communication. I even came up with my own nature show: The Scrappy Naturalist (still in progress…!). I’m one of those rare and fortunate people that has grown up to be what they wanted to be as a kid, and I am so thankful for that. Working with mammals and people on human-wildlife conflict issues is both rewarding and very challenging, and I am constantly learning. Stay tuned for some insight into my field methods (How do you dart and collar a hyena? How does an animal get through a fence? What is human-wildlife conflict, anyway? Fieldwork fails- I have plenty!) and my path to where I am today.
Kaylee: I (admittedly) don’t work directly with mammals, however I am a disease ecologist who studies parasites that infect mammals. More specifically, I am interested in better understanding the relationships between altered landscapes and disease transmission between humans and animals. Mammals are everywhere, and I think it’s important to share with the public misconceptions on certain species (wolves, rodents, etc), the challenges of human-wildlife conflict, and ways to better communicate and share science with Black and Brown communities across the Globe.
Artwork by Sean Vidal Edgerton (https://www.thepenandthepangolin.com/ and https://www.instagram.com/thepenandthepangolin/?hl=en)
What advice do you have for current and prospective scientists looking to build communities online?
Christine: I didn’t really start using twitter until June, when I realized there were so many other Black/BIPOC scientists out there. I was so moved to see how many of us there are. When I was a kid, my role models were people like Jeff Corwin and Steve Irwin; I didn’t know if there were other Black wildlife biologists/mammal enthusiasts out there, but it certainly didn’t seem like it. With social media, we can find each other and connect. Though social media can be daunting for many reasons, I highly recommend tapping into the scientific communities online- I have met new friends and many supportive folks who I wouldn’t have otherwise. Don’t be afraid to reach out on social media to folks you admire or can collaborate & connect with.
Kaylee: My best advice would be to follow #BLACKandSTEM, or any related hashtag. Dr. Stephani Page created #BLACKandSTEM back in 2014, which has paved the way to a full community of Black scientists online. From there, dozens of other groups have been created, connecting various marginalized voices across dozens of STEM fields. If you write, for example, “I’m looking to connect with Black parasitologists” and include #BLACKandSTEM (or any other similar hashtag), you will be immediately connected with Black parasitologists across the world. Until very recently, I could count on two hands the number of Black scientists that I knew. But now, with this incredible community of Black scientists on twitter, I am now connected to hundreds online, including new collaborators and new friends. Twitter can be an alienating space, but I have found that Black twitter is a wonderful collection of Black scientists, writers, journalists, content creators, music lovers, and more, that can all share similar life experiences and laugh together.
What does the future of mammalogy research look like to you?
Gabi: The future of mammalogy will, I think, lean more and more towards community-based research and conservation. As human-wildlife interactions continue to become more and more complex, community generated and based solutions to these types of difficult problems will become even more crucial for long-term project success and sustainability.
Christine: The future of mammalogy research looks more inclusive and more diverse. We are already starting to see increasingly more BIPOC mammalogists in a field that has been historically dominated by white men. Also, Black mammalogists have been around, for a long, long time. It’s about time we start elevating Black voices in this field, and putting action to words around DEI in this field. Many organizations and societies have made verbal or written commitments to advancing equity and inclusion, the future will see this turned into action through meaningfully listening to and collaborating with BIPOC mammalogists and wildlife biologists.
What are you looking to accomplish over this week?
All: During and after this week, we hope to provide opportunities for current and aspiring Black mammalogists across the Diaspora to form conscious, fruitful connections, in addition to illuminating historical and present-day Black contributions to the field of Mammalogy.
Welcome to #BlackMammalogists Week!