You might have heard about the water theme park, the oceanarium and the reef swim. But who is working behind-the-scenes to fulfill the conservation mission of the Marine Life Park? Meet Felicia Wee, a conservationist at MLP with a strong passion for marine life. We talk to her to find out what it takes to be part of the team.
1) Hi Felicia, so how long you’ve been in the conservation line?
I worked at the zoo in Singapore for four years, where I had the opportunity to be part of the pioneer team that introduced the Wild Discoverer personalized tour- which has a tour guide bringing visitors around the zoo, giving insights on the animal kingdom. I love it because I think it’s a great way to educate people about animals and conservation.
After I left the zoo, I pursued a degree in Conservation Biology at Murdoch University, where I also worked part time at the Perth zoo helping out with animal adoptions and donations. I was also part of the zoo’s education department for school holiday programmes.
Whenever school breaks, my visits back home to Singapore would always surround conservation efforts. I am (to this date) a member of the Nature Society and part of the horseshoe crab research and rescue team. We’d rescue horseshoe crabs that are trapped in nets around Singapore, as well as collect data from them such as size, gender, and whether they are molting or not before releasing them back into the wild. I also volunteered at the zoo and Night Safari, since it was where I started.
When I graduated I joined a friend, a Timorese who set up an animal health project in Timor-Leste. We traveled from village to village to check on the health and types of livestock that each household has, analyzed them, and kept tabs on diseases. We gave simple wormer treatments for parasites, administered vaccinations where needed, did some blood tests to investigate conditions and treated other illnesses where we could.
We worked with vets from Victoria, Australia, and together we educated the farmers and villagers on proper animal husbandry and care. It is an ongoing project which fundamentally improves the welfare of the animals and the livelihoods of the villagers.
2) What inspired you to get into conservation?
Since young I was inclined towards science, the great outdoors, animals, water, and marine mammals – if I could, I’d choose to work with Humpback whales and dolphins. My dad was “outdoorsy” and we spent a lot of time together at the beach growing up. Back then I used to watch nature programmes such as those by Sir David Attenborough and was inspired; I realized that there was a career in what I love and I thought why not? By the time I was 15 I wanted to be a marine biologist; a dream that I fought very hard to achieve.
3) How has your experience with MLP been thus far?
It’s been great! There’s also a lot for me to learn because I’ve only worked at zoos, birdparks, and nature reserves, but not at aquariums. We’re also in the midst of laying the foundation for the aquarium and the Marine Life Park Conservation Fund, where money is put aside to be given back to the environment for the preservation of the natural world and its inhabitants. It’s challenging but meaningful work.
4) What opportunities has working at MLP given you?
I would have to say that working with vets, aquarists, and the marine mammal experts who have 10 to 30 years of experience has allowed me to learn a lot and has made the journey exciting. I get to engage and work alongside people who are passionate about what they do. I am exposed to an international community of biologists and conservationists and we all work with the same passion towards the same goal.
5) What have you learnt working with the conservation team of MLP?
That an organization such as ours can have great value and potential to do so much good. If you want to help animals, you’ll need to have good relations with people; and the bottom line is, we are all working together to be stewards for animals and the environment.
6) Has working here given you a different outlook on conservation?
It has reinforced and amplified my conviction. Working here has really helped me piece together a wider picture and it reminds me that there is really a lot to do. The team here has an amazing opportunity to make a very big difference.
7) What are the basic requirements of a person interested in working in the conservation unit?
Firstly, a person will need to have passion, a strong conviction, and perseverance. It’s not an easy journey and you’ll meet a lot of people who have different interests, passions, and opinions.
Secondly, in terms of qualifications we’d prefer if you have at least a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences, such as conservation biology, environmental science, biology, or zoology. You’re also encouraged to be a volunteer with nature groups. However we will look at candidates on a case-by-case basis.
8) What words of advice would you give someone interested in joining the conservations team?
Be exposed. Read, learn, go out and not be afraid. Keep going at it, you’ll eventually come to it. Stay strong!
9) Can you share with us any interesting stories on the ground thus far?
For me personally, it was a trip to the facility in Subic and seeing the dolphins. It was an amazing two days and it’s wasn’t only about visiting the animals, but also about meeting the team. Watching them work and bond with the animals and seeing the animals’ responses fuels the passion and enforces what we are doing. That’s all that matters and I hope our conservation efforts will not go to waste.
There was an encounter at the facility that remains fondly in my memory. I was standing by the water and one of the dolphins came up to me and kept spy hopping*, looking at me like he was checking me out. He didn’t ask for anything, and I didn’t do anything; we kinda just hung out for a while. It was a special moment.
*Spy hopping: the natural behavior of a marine mammal where it pops its heads out of water, exposing its rostrum and head, to inspect whatever it is above water that has sparked its curiosity.