Dr. Kita Ashman (pronouns: she/her) is a threatened species and climate adaptation ecologist working with WWF Australia, we delve into Kita’s inspiring journey in the field of wildlife and ecology. Kita shares her experiences, from her undergraduate studies to her current role, where she focuses on conservation efforts for threatened and culturally significant species. Throughout the conversation, Kita offers valuable insights on how to stay positive in the face of conservation challenges, avoid burnout, and make a meaningful impact by letting your voice be heard.
Kita has built her career with wildlife over a number of years – beginning with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and conservation biology at Deakin University which she loved. Her early passion for evolutionary biology led her to pursue an Honors degree and research focused around entomology and moths. However, she felt the need to make a more significant impact on wildlife conservation and this idea led her to enrol in a PhD in 2017 where she studied koala distribution and abundance in southwest Victoria.
After completing her PHD., Kita worked at the Australian National University with Professor David Lindemeyer’s lab before joining WWF Australia. Over the years, she has built a successful career focused on threatened species and culturally significant species. Her work includes on-ground conservation projects, advocacy, and policy initiatives to protect nature and reform legislation.
Kita’s work is largely focused around projects that throw lifelines to threatened species impacted by climate change. Her role is split between delivering on ground field conservation and managing the behind-the-scenes work around media and advocacy as well as policy and legislation and writing papers and pieces of work that can shift the dial on nature laws and promote reform so they are fit for purpose. Kita now works predominantly with threatened species like Greater Gliders and Western Swamp Tortoises.
Kita started out her ecology journey leading with her head which satisfied the science-loving parts of her brain which was fascinated by questions about why things were the way they were. But after spending time in the research space, her heart wasn’t quite satisfied and was drawn to conservation biology – wanting to do more science to create an impact. She explains –
“I think it was a case of leading with my head and then going more towards my heart and trying to strike that balance between the two. And my work at the moment really does a lot of that.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF OPTIMISM FOR CONSERVATION
Maintaining a positive outlook in conservation work can be challenging, especially in the face of declining species and environmental threats. Kita emphasizes the importance of resilience and having mental health tools to navigate these challenges. She explains –
“For me, it’s a case of figuring out, okay, what are my mental health tools that will help me go from having a breakdown crying about Gliders on the kitchen floor to being able to pick myself up and go, okay, what am I going to actually do about this?”
She shares her personal coping mechanisms, which include trail running in natural environments. Physical activity in the wilderness helps her reset mentally and find inspiration.
“There’s something magical about challenging yourself and moving your body in these natural places. Trail running and being out in nature helps me to switch off the mental challenges I’m dealing with at work whilst being physically immersed in natural areas.”
Additionally, Kita highlights the significance of community support. Collaborating with others who share her passion for conservation and receiving their encouragement and assistance are crucial in shifting from hopelessness to hopefulness. She emphasizes the power of collective action, even when signing petitions or participating in advocacy campaigns, as they send a strong message to policymakers. Kita explains –
“Another thing that shifts me from feeling hopelessness to hopefulness is the community that I’m surrounded by. People like yourself, everybody on the socials, everybody who I work with when stuff happens and things blow up, there’s always somebody in my corner.”
“And when the stuff kicked off with the gliders, it was amazing to see how rapidly people responded. People were so keen to sign petitions to spread the word. And so as soon as I can communicate there is a problem… there was support and action.”
LETTING YOUR VOICE BE HEARD
Having a positive and meaningful impact in the conservation space is something many of us aspire to do – improving habitat and protecting threatened species. For Kita, making a meaningful impact begins with understanding the power of your voice. She explains –
“Advocacy, speaking up, and letting your voice be heard are essential tools for conservationists. While it might seem like a small act, every voice counts, and when these voices unite, they can create a powerful force for change.”
For instance, when it comes to issues like ending native forest logging or reforming nature laws to better protect wildlife, collective actions matter. Signing petitions, contacting your local representatives, and getting involved in campaigns can have a significant impact. It’s about showing decision-makers that there’s public support for these critical environmental changes. Kita explains –
“You might think, “What can my voice do?” or “Does signing a petition really make a difference?” I’m here to tell you that it does. Even being one name on a list of thousands signifies the collective concern for an issue. Politicians want to stay in power, and they’ll take action on issues that resonate with their constituents. So, don’t underestimate the power of collective voices and small actions.”
And on the individual level, you can also make a meaningful impact by adopting more sustainable and eco-friendly practices. For example, embracing a plant-based diet or making conscious choices about your consumption can reduce your ecological footprint. Kita says –
“Remember that every small change you make in your daily life can contribute to a more significant positive impact on the environment. Additionally, you have the power to influence the corporate world through your spending habits. Where you choose to bank, which brands you support, and the companies you invest in can all be aligned with your environmental values.”
Every dollar spent is essentially a vote, so make sure you’re voting for companies that align with your conservation goals.
ADVICE FOR WORKING WITH WILDLIFE
Now, shifting the focus back to careers in conservation, Kita has advice for building your career path with passion and persistence –
“Conservation work can be challenging, and you will face obstacles and setbacks along the way. But believing in yourself and your mission is crucial.”
“Maintaining your momentum and sustaining your passion often requires riding the waves of this field. Sometimes you’ll have peak moments when everything aligns, and you’re making a significant impact. But there will also be quieter periods when the challenges might seem daunting.”
For Kita, embracing these moments and appreciating the ebb and flow is part of the journey.
“To sustain your career, I’d also recommend finding mentorship and building strong relationships with individuals who can inspire, guide, and hold you accountable. They can be a source of strength during challenging times and help you navigate the path from where you are to where you want to be.”
So, in conclusion, having a meaningful impact and letting your voice be heard in the world of conservation is about collective actions, individual choices, and a persistent belief in your abilities. Remember that even small steps can lead to significant change, and when united, our voices become a force for nature.
KEEP IN TOUCH
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Both Susie and Kita acknowledge the Traditional Owners on the country they recorded on today – Menang and Wurundjeri country respectively – and pay respects to Elders past and present. Kita adds –
“It’s a really important moment in time for the First Nations custodians of the lands that we all live on. Our First Nations are the longest continuing culture in the world, and they’re storytellers about themselves, about their environment, and it’s such an important moment in time now with the Voice referendum. I’d really encourage people who care about the environment, who care about social justice and equality and equitable futures for all people and for nature, to just take time to educate yourself on what this referendum is all about and the history of it.”
“And the work that’s been getting driven forward for some really incredible pieces of writing, like the Uluru Statement from the Heart and for First Nations stewards who have been pushing so hard for this recognition for decades now.”