Have you ever felt the need to actively do something to save the environment? Does a career in Environmental Science or Biology seem like something you would be interested in but you’re not entirely so sure about what the job would actually entail?
Wildlife conservation has been a topic shown relentlessly on the media spotlight for the past years. There’s definitely more that you could do as a young person with the drive to protect Mother Nature — and that is to consider studying to become a wildlife conservationist.
The Philippines is surrounded with a rich biodiversity so it comes to no surprise that there are several protection initiatives to help preserve this. We’re featuring one of the active Filipino conservationists, Arman Pili, who has made groundbreaking work through his efforts of protecting our rarest amphibians.
1. Introduce yourself and tell us more about the work you do.
I am Arman Pili, 23, and, in simple words, I am an early-career wildlife conservationist. I have been working as a Science Research Specialist at HerpWatch Pilipinas, Inc. – a non-government organization that I helped incorporate two years ago.
In a nutshell, I lead a research project that aims to investigate ‘invasive alien species’, particularly amphibians and reptiles. These are plants and animals that are not native to the Philippines but were introduced by humans in areas where they do not naturally occur.
Aside from my work at our organization, I am also a young explorer at National Geographic, where, similar to my work with our organization, I document the invasion of alien amphibians through archiving, conducting expeditions, and photo and video documentation.
Perhaps, most importantly, I spread the word and enhance citizen science through information campaigns; through classroom and community lectures about invasive alien species and their impacts, and leverage to government authorities to support and act on the negative impacts of invasive alien species to the environment and human community, and attending and presenting in Protected Areas Management Board meetings.
I also volunteer my time to several State Universities and Protected Areas where I conduct training workshops and help in field research.
2. What got you into this line of work?
I was a child of Science; just to clarify, I was never the A+ student in any science class, but I have a fascination for scientific trivia, especially those about the natural world and wildlife. This childhood interest was perhaps fueled by the likes of David Attenborough, Jeff Corwin, and other personalities that I watched in several nature shows and documentaries broadcasted in Animal Planet, National Geographic, and Discovery, etc.
Through time, I guess this interest of mine grew out to be something that I would be very (and sometimes borderline) insanely passionate about.
One of the biggest leaps-of-fate in my life was selecting the course that I will take in college: Biology. In 10 years time, I want to be the next Jeff Corwin. I envision myself to be a wildlife biologist, studying glass frogs in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congos in Africa.
But my journey as a student of Biology was not what I imagined, because we learned very little about wildlife. It was quite late when I realized that I should have taken a forestry or wildlife studies if I was to pursue a career in wildlife conservation.
Nonetheless, after college, in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, with a strong passion, a big selfless dream, and undying determination, I redirected my career-path towards wildlife conservation – something that I know will make me happy, a good child of nature, and a good person to human society.
I took up a Masters degree in Environmental Biology, and throughout my Masters journey, I got to study and research on different subjects that I am very much interested in, I met a very inspiring adviser – the Dr. Arvin C. Diesmos, and I got to travel and meet a lot of big people in Philippine and International wildlife conservation and, even, Philippine science, in general.
3. What do you think the youth can do to make this world a better place?
I find it a very good thing that mountaineering and other outdoors activities, sustainable eco-tourism, volunteerism in coastal clean-ups, the lifestyle that minimize waste and carbon footprint, and other nature/environmental-friendly lifestyle-fads have become a thing to the youth.
I think the first thing that the youth should do is to go out more – feel the sun’s kiss on their skin and the breeze of the wind through their hair, break a sweat trekking up mountains, gaze the stars and watch fireflies dance and listen to the melody of the forest through the night. Be awakened by the whistles and chirps of the thousands of birds you have never ever even heard nor seen before.
And whenever you go out, I hope you wholeheartedly, cautiously, and attentively listen to authorities and abide with rules and regulation.
There are almost always briefings, and signs are posted everywhere. By going out, you will witness the beauty of nature, and once you witness this beauty, at the least, you will be conscious of your actions that may potentially destroy this beauty, you will side with nature conservation and against nature-destructive activities, and advocate for and actively engage in activities relating to conservation or restoration of nature.
I encourage the youth to shift to a lifestyle where they are cautious of their waste and consumption of resources, to spare a day to volunteer in environmental activities, to join and patronize nature-themed activities, and the list goes on.
4. What are some misconceptions about you as a wildlife conservationist?
Due to shows such as documentaries hosted by David Attenborough or Jeff Corwin or locally hosted by Kim Atienza and Dr. Ferds, people’s most common misconceptions of our work are:
(1) that we are almost always out in the field – taking pictures or video documenting wildlife, chasing after and handling gorgeous beasts, exploring jungles for exotic plants,
(2) that we know all types of wildlife and have a trivia or two to share about them. Documentaries only show the very tip of what we actually do as wildlife conservationists.
In reality, most wildlife conservationists only know much about a certain wildlife or a particular group of wildlife. We have our own specializations – you will hardly get anything about monkeys if you ask a marine biologist working on jellyfish. We aren’t daredevils chasing after gorgeous yet potential dangerous wildlife. In fact, it’s a rule-of-thumb not to attempt to get close to any dangerous wildlife, let alone catch and play with them.
We spend about 10% of our time in the field and pretty much the rest cleaning, analyzing and interpreting data, writing scientific articles, geeking around by attending and presenting our work to the scientific and wildlife conservation communities in scientific conferences and symposia.
We spend a decent amount of our time translating the scientific language of our scientific work into something that the people can understand, making presentations, posters, and pamphlets, and immersing into indigenous communities to share to them what wonders behold their land and persuading government authorities to do something to protect wildlife.
We are often belittled for studying things that are believed to be not uninteresting and unimportant. Truth be told, biologists are blessed to be given a set of eyes that sees every creature – from a creature invisible like microbe or plankton to a creature spectacular like a critically endangered Philippine eagle.
We have a sixth sense, where we feel the connection of one life to the other and to another and to a bigger functioning system of life and to humans – a loss of one will indirectly if not directly affect humans. In fact, Biology is as, if not more, difficult than physics, chemistry, astronomy, and other sciences, owing to the fact that no species in the world has ever been fully understood to date.
5. What is your hope for the youth?
I hope the youth realize humanity is the cause of the current denuded state of nature. I hope that as the future leaders, the youth realize that as a part of humanity, they have a moral obligation to see what see what they can do about it and, perhaps most importantly, the moral imperative to do something to conserve, protect, and restore nature.