[Marita Davison, Part 3: Plans and Dreams] [How did you choose your project?] For some people they have a really set idea of what they want to do, and they go for it, and I think that’s great. I did not have that happen to me at all. I really didn’t know what I wanted to study. I always knew that I wanted to go back to Bolivia and do some kind of meaningful work there, but I had no idea what. And for me the flamingos really happened because I actually just took a trip to the southwest corner of Bolivia. It’s a, it’s becoming a kind of a big tourist destination for the more rugged backpacking tourists. I went on that trip, I had no idea that flamingos lived down there, and these saline lakes that are 5,000 meters above sea level, and that I mean, that I was just I was really struck by it. I was really captivated by the system, by the landscape, and the fact that these birds are there, and I started, I asked myself, Jeez, I wonder if anybody’s studying these. And I came back to Cornell after that trip, and I started to dig around the internet, and looked through some of, some of the literature, and I realized, wow there really are very few people that are studying them, and virtually nobody in Bolivia. So that was motivation enough, and then it was just a matter of coming up with some questions that I thought were interesting for me personally, and really going for it. That was it. [Why study flamingos?] It’s really hard to capture how magnificent these birds are just by telling you or by showing you a photo or even by showing you a video. It’s, it’s unbelievable when, when you go and, and you see these birds in these lakes, and you see what they have to endure. The temperature, the extreme, extreme temperature swings, the amount of wind that there is. We’re in a high desert. I mean it’s, it’s, it’s just really, it’s remarkable to see these guys, and just the thought of losing that for future generations is really, is really devastating to me. So I, I want to do whatever I have to to avoid that from happening. [Why is technology important?] At least in the way that we’re using technology it’s allowing us to gather a large amount of data, a large amount of information in a pretty short amount of time. And when you are faced with really pressing, really urgent conservation issues, some urgent threats, being able to gather that amount of data in that short of a time period is extremely advantageous. So you know we can, we can gather ,we can collect the data fast, we can analyze it fairly fast, and then we can turn around and say here’s what we need to get done, here are our recommendations about how to do it. And that’s really important for us because the time, the clock is ticking, you know. [What would you like to do in the future?] I’m really passionate about, about applied, applying what we know about the natural world to actually make a difference in the world. Not just for these these systems themselves, but for the people that live around them. I mean there’s always a human element to these things, and that’s really where, where I want to put my efforts. to one so I guess my ideal position for example would be to to manage a broad scale conservation program that is very inclusive but not just assesses, not just addresses the biology or the ecology of a place, but really brings in the human element. [How can I start a career like this?] Start getting your feet wet, you know. There there’s so many different directions that you can take in ecology and conservation. You can go, I would just, I would start to ask questions about what are the things that you like and really start to, start to follow that, that direction. Of course you know, what, if you decide that you want to go to college there are a number of different routes you can take there. Most colleges offer at least a basic biology major, but a lot of them are offering more of an environmental slant on the biology major. And even if you decide not to go to college there are a lot of opportunities. You can, you can volunteer, you can get jobs working for local or, or more broad scale nongovernmental organizations that are doing conservation work, but I would say just follow your curiosity. Really really give it a chance. Start asking questions, get out there, and see if if this is something you want to do. And there, there are so many opportunities, and we really, I mean, the the world needs people asking these questions and going after the answers. And yes, I would say just don’t, don’t be afraid, and, and just go for it. [Produced by Cornell University and Hobart and William Smith Colleges through the Crossing Boundaries Project]

End of transcript

Marita Davison, a former Cornell graduate student, explains how a tourist trip to the Andes inspired her to begin studying the ecology of threatened flamingos and shares her dream of managing a conservation program that integrates ecological knowledge with human needs to protect biodiversity.