Welcome to post 4 of “Let’s Dream” We’re going to continue to look at Dream Career followers with this interview with Raphael!
RAPHAEL COLEMAN is a wildlife biologist and conservation worker from London. He travels the world working on conservation projects and in animal sanctuaries, often as a volunteer. He uses the connections he makes to grow the network he has founded, the Wildwork. Through the network, passionate wildlife protectors are put in contact with other individuals and organizations who can help them find a volunteer placement or a job, recruit new staff, and get career advice.
“Was there a pivotal point when you realized what your dream was? Did your dream change as you worked toward it?”
When I left school, I’d saved up money to go traveling. I picked up a brochure for volunteering in a travel agency, and a project in a game reserve in South Africa caught my eye. The first week I rocked up, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. We went out on drives to radio-track elephant, cheetah, and wild dogs… I couldn’t believe that this was a career option.
I’ve never doubted my decision to work with wildlife since, but the goals have become bigger, more complex and far-reaching every year. It wasn’t long before I started concocting plans to save the natural world… more on that later.
“What steps of action did you have to take to accomplish your goals?”
I signed up for two more volunteer projects and a course in Zoology at university, then a placement in a jungle field station in Costa Rica. Every opportunity I had to build experience or knowledge, I took it. When I got a new course or project, no matter how disoriented I was or how hard the work, I got my head down and pushed through. That determination has served me well, and the reward you get is totally worth every drop of sweat.
“What was the hardest part of pursuing your dreams?”
In the five years I’ve been doing this, it’s been a huge amount of hard graft. My degree pushed my resolve and my mental health to its limits at times, and basic living conditions during fieldwork can wear you down over time.
Another issue is that you get very little money in return – education is expensive, you can’t get a job without volunteer experience. Most jobs are unpaid with expenses covered or pay very little. I was lucky enough to be cushioned by money I earned working in the film industry as a kid. But nowadays I’m often on the brink of broke, and applying for grants or living cheap as dirt when I travel.
“Do you feel that you have achieved success in your dreams? Are you still working toward your dream or a different one?”
I’ve got a first-class degree, built two years solid of experience in the field, I’m qualified as a wilderness medic, and I know how to work in the jungle. Back when I started I hadn’t thought further than that. Now that I’m here, things are more complicated, and I’m aiming higher – two Masters’, a diving internship, an anti-poaching course, and building experience with marine species are all in the plans.
But my personal training is just the start. To help people like myself at all stages of their career, my friends and I have built a support network, the Wildwork, for people who work with wildlife and wildernesses. We’re hoping to build a website to help answer a lot of the problems we see in our field today.
“What was the best part of your journey of pursuing your passions?”
Undoubtedly, the reward – the joy you feel when you realize you are improving the lives of animals, be it in captivity or the wild. Seeing sea turtle hatchlings make it to sea, which would have been eaten by dogs or vultures. Watching a tiger chase and play with a new toy you made for its enclosure. Coming across that rare snake or catching that colourful bird that tells
you an ecosystem is still in good health. Nothing matches these feelings, and all my best stories are from working in the field.
“Is there any advice you would give someone passionately pursuing their dreams?”
First, build yourself into a tool – a weapon you can use to tackle the world’s problems. When you are complete, or even before then, grab this planet with both hands and fix what’s wrong with it. Don’t ever let anyone tell you one person can’t change the world – Martin Luther King was one man, and so was Hitler. Marie Curie was one woman, Albert Einstein, David Attenborough, all one, one, one. A single person can plant a forest, save a species, and inspire millions of others. But hell, do you have to work hard for it.
Raphael P.J. Coleman, BSc.
Freelance conservation worker
Founder of The Wildwork – Network of Wildlife and Wilderness Workers