Amy Coetsee

Amy is a Threatened Species Biologist at Zoos Victoria. She is engaged in protecting the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, with the aim to recover them from the threatened species list. She is also smashing gender stereotypes and inspiring women and girls as a 2019 Superstar of STEM.

This is Amy’s story, her perspective on the recent bushfires and how we can all maintain hope through action.

Amy smiles and wears a tshirt that says "Help Us Save The Eastern Barred Bandicoot". The journey to a career in conservation

I’ve always loved animals and from the age of 14 I wanted a career in conservation.

My grandma fostered my love of nature by taking me and my sister on crazy adventures, where we usually got lost, stuck in the mud or had some other hilarious, minor disaster every weekend. My dad introduced me to David Attenborough documentaries, opening my eyes to amazing animals across the world, feeding my desire to work in conservation.

I always knew that it would be difficult to get a job in conservation. My Environmental Science teacher knew this too and told me that I was wasting my time trying.

Undeterred, and with the support of my mum who always encouraged me to follow my dreams, I strived for the career I now have. I love my job, the challenges and variety it brings, the amazing people I get to work with and that I’m making a difference for threatened species. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Every day is different. Some days I’m fighting my way through dense tea tree and blackberry on French Island, others I’m at my desk sorting through thousands of camera trap images or engaging students and community members in my work.

I do spend a lot of time at my desk or in meetings planning species recovery projects, releases or monitoring events, but my favorite thing to do is introducing new volunteers to their first Eastern Barred Bandicoot – it's always love at first sight.

Australian wildlife has always fascinated me; there are so many unique species here that are completely different to British wildlife. After finishing my undergrad I came to Australia as a backpacker on a one-year visa and did some volunteer work with Tasmanian Devils. I wasn’t planning to emigrate, but I fell in love with Australia and 18 years later, I’m still here.

There were many times when I thought I would never work in conservation, but I persevered and 13 years after finishing my undergrad, 4 years after finishing my PhD, I got my dream job.

For anyone interested in becoming a conservation biologist, volunteering can be key to your success. Not only does volunteering increase your skill set but it also grows your network – the more people that know what you’re capable off, the easier it will be to get a job.

Don’t give up!

The impact of the fires

It’s heartbreaking, the enormity of the fires. Over ten million hectares have burnt and over a billion animals have perished, it’s hard to comprehend. In Victoria alone, over 170 rare and threatened plants and animals have had at least 50% of their habitat burnt. It’ll be months before we understand the full extent of the impact on our biodiversity.

At Zoos Victoria we were already working with 27 threatened species before the fires. Now that number may increase as some species have undoubtedly been pushed closer to extinction.

Despite the heartbreaking images of fire-affected areas and wildlife that have flooded the news, it’s heartening to see how well everyone across different organisations is working together to help save as many species as we can.

There is always something that can be done

Without hope what choice do we have but to give up? That isn’t an option for me, there is always something that can be done.

I find hope everywhere, from children donating their pocket money to Zoos Victoria’s Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund and telling their parents that they don’t want balloons at their birthday parties because they kill seabirds, to the French Island community supporting the release of Eastern Barred Bandicoots onto their island, to the multitude of people from DELWP, Parks Victoria, Zoos Victoria and other organisations that put together an emergency Eastern Bristlebird rescue operation in seven days as the rapidly approaching fire threatened to burn Cape Howe, the only place they are found in Victoria.

There are many simple things that everyone can do to protect wildlife, from keeping cats indoors to blowing bubbles not balloons at outdoor events and recycling mobile phones. Check out Zoos Victoria’s Conservation Campaigns and Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund for more information and campaigns you can get involved in.

An Eastern Barred Bandicoot is lowered onto the ground by a pair of hands.

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