In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Gabi Fleury about human-wildlife conflict, being LGBTQIA+ and Black in STEM, and so much more.
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Kayla Fratt 00:09
Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss detection, training, the canine welfare, conservation, biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies and NGOs.
We still don’t have any new reviews on Apple podcasts. So please, stop making me feel like I’m repeatedly texting someone asking if they want to hang out and they’re just not responding to me. Please stop coasting me, drop us a review. They really make my day.
On a less sad note though today I have the joy of talking to Gabi Fleury, who is a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is developing a carnivore livestock conflict mitigation project in collaboration with local NGOs, Cheetah Conservation Botswana and Botswana Predator Conservation Gabi, whose pronouns are they/them, is a Fulbright scholar, a member of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science, and a member of the organizing committee for Black Mammalogists week. We’re gonna be talking about human wildlife conflict, being Black in STEM, using local dogs to work on conservation issues rather than importing dogs, and so much more. I think you’re really going to enjoy this podcast; I had a great time connecting with Gabi and it’s a it was a real pleasure to get to talk to them, and learn a bunch from them.
But before we get into it, first, we’re going to dive into our science highlight. So I was super excited a couple weeks ago to see this article pop up in my Google Scholar alerts that is titled, “Comparing the narcotics detection canine accuracy across breeds.” It was published by Brian Lee Rice and Joseph Velasco in Heliyon in summer 2023. And again, even though this is on narcotics dogs, I was stoked because I was really excited to see what this detection canine accuracy may vary looking across breeds, you know, I work with Border Collies are not considered a typical detection dog. People ask me all the time why we don’t work with beagles. My next dog, I’m deeply considering getting a spaniel, maybe a lab if I have enough room for a dog that make you know, or it could just be another shelter been so super excited about this. But before I even finished the abstract, I was pretty bummed out. It turns out that when the paper says when the title says a cross breeds, what they meant was 25 Belgian Malinois and nine German Shepherds, which you may recognize as two breeds that are very, very similar phenotypically genetically. Yeah, they’re pretty closely related breeds. They’re both shepherds that no longer are really used for herding and are much more kind of police. And military bred and you know, the malinois came from the German Shepherd, or – yeah, they’re just they’re very, very closely related. And yeah, so we’re not going to answer any questions about beagles versus Spaniels, or labs versus Border Collies with this paper. Unfortunately, we’re really just kind of looking at two very closely related breeds. It’s just so hard to say much when you’re trying to compare two breeds that are so similar and often crossbred. I would honestly be kind of interested if they had done and as far as I can tell, they did not done genetic tests on these dogs to see what proportion of the other breed may or may not be in there because I know in a lot of police kennels that sort of crossbreeding is not uncommon. So the researchers basically had these drug dogs search rooms with one plan to drug per room and compared the dogs number of correct alerts, false alerts and misses. The handlers were searching blind, but were able to employ their own strategy. They didn’t mention a timeline. They found that 11% of the German Shepherds made a false alert versus 4% of the Malinois. Although we do also have to remember that there was only nine German Shepherds. So if there was one German shepherd that was kind of thrown on the team off. We can’t necessarily Yeah, the stats get a little messy there. The German Shepherds found 100% of the targets, while the melon Wah found 98% of the targets. Given the sample sizes, those differences were not significant. And anyway, the long story short here, I’m not really sure if there’s anything in this paper that’s useful as far as breed selection for detection work. I’m, I guess, I’m glad that they did the research, but it just didn’t feel like anything that we could really apply, I suppose if they had found significant differences that would have been really interesting and quite surprising. But I’m mostly quibbling with the title here. It’s a pretty misleading title.
But without further ado, let’s go get to our interview with Gabi Fleury.
Rachel Hamre 04:50
Hi all, Rachel here from K9Conservationists. One of the ways you can support K9Conservationists is by checking out our online store at k9conservationists.org/shop. You can find hats, stickers, pet food mats, reusable grocery bags, mugs and all sorts of shirts and jackets. I have one of the hoodies and I think it’s so comfortable and cozy. I also really love the pride stickers. If you really don’t need anything new, you can also make a tax deductible donation to K9Conservationists, K9conservationists.org/support-our-work.
Kayla Fratt 05:29
Alright, so, welcome to the podcast, Gabi, I’m super excited to finally get to talk to you. We’ve been working on trying to make our schedules mesh for an embarrassingly long time. Why don’t you start out with telling us a little bit about like, take us back to you as a kid. How do you get into the world of ecology? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?
Gabi Fleury 05:50
Yes, yes, like a little brief introduction. So I’m a conservation biologist who works mostly on carnivore-livestock mitigation. So I call myself an interspecies diplomat, I kind of work in the, in the space between people, people, and wildlife. And that kind of is a mix of all kinds of things from behavioral science, both from the human side and on the animal side to looking at Wildlife Ecology, to looking at one health to looking at, you know, psychology and political ecology and history and culture. So it’s kind of like my field is like 12 fields had a baby. And then those fields were you that field was then babysat by a bunch of other fields. So I kind of do all the things. But there is no primer on how to do that as a career, right?
So it’s always really interesting question, if people ask me, how did you get into conservation because I literally have no conscious memory. When I wasn’t wanting to be a conservationist, I just didn’t know what that word was always interested in wildlife. To my dad is of Angolan descent. He’s Brazilian Angolan. So I was always really interested in like Southern African conservation. My mom always jokes, I saw the Lion King one too many times – I am a child of the 90s. Yeah, so I was always really interested in wildlife really interested in wild places. And it’s always interesting for me to think about because when I was a little kid growing up watching documentaries, I never saw the people in those documentaries. And my entire job is working with people. And that’s actually you know, like, I’m a people person. That’s what I love to do. But it’s really interesting, because why I thought the job I would have when I was five, is very different from the job I have now.
But yeah, so I was always really interested in protecting wildlife and very fascinated by animal facts. And I’m an osteosarcoma survivor. So a bone cancer survivor. So a lot of people will say that they got into nature, because they were outplayed in puddles and in the forests and things like that. I was born in Boston. So I was born in a very urban environment. And I literally couldn’t physically run until I was about 10. So I missed a lot of that, getting my hands in the dirt. So what I did is I actually learned from from books and from films and I spent three years in the hospital reading animal textbooks, and Ranger Rick comics and all these kinds of things. So yeah, so I fell in love with it kind of from that way, and then finally got to “touch grass” so to speak and become a conservationist after that.
But that was actually one of the reasons why I was so passionate about getting better is because I actually asked about this, I wear a physical aid. So I have a brace in the field, a leg brace, because my left leg is mostly reconstructed below the knee. So as as a physical disability, when I was a kid wanting to be a conservationist, knowing I needed to be fit and be able to be in the field actually was a huge motivator to go through 15 years of physical therapy. And now I get to do that. So it doesn’t impede me in the field at all. It’s just a physical aid. But I’m proud to say that, I don’t know if I’d be walking together if I wasn’t a conservationist. So that’s a really kind of fun.
Kayla Fratt 09:04
I didn’t know that. I did an okay job of researching before this interview, but that’s yeah, that’s incredible. And, I mean, I’m so glad that you had something that were you were able to focus on and look forward to because that my younger sister was very sick for a lot of our childhood. And, you know, having that driving force to learn how to walk again and to go through all of you know, everything associated with that it was so so so important for her and you know, she’s now in medical school. That’s that’s the way that she ended up going. But yeah, it’s that’s, that’s incredible. And I’m sorry you had to go through that as well. That sounds like a very tough childhood.
Gabi Fleury 09:52
Yeah. But also it led to so many amazing things. I mean, it’s so that was really good part of that and also having One of those differences growing up made me kind of, I think, develop a lot of empathy towards devices. And just kind of trying to, to learn how to interact with a lot of different people who may be very different from me, whether that’s background or all these different differences between different people. And a lot of my work sometimes feels like being more like a UN Ambassador than the conservationist. So I think a lot of having to learn how to navigate differences has been really important, because there’s also trying to find those similarities, right, bringing people into the one thing that they can all agree on. And I got really good at that through some of my challenges. So it’s been good.
Kayla Fratt 10:37
Yeah, yeah, that’s really neat. So you got to go outside, you got to start playing in the grass. You’ve got to start living out the Ranger Rick dreams. And then where did you directly go off to undergrad thinking you were like majoring in ecology or conservation biology or, you know, one of the fields that fits right in that umbrella. And then from there, where did you end up?
Gabi Fleury 11:02
Yeah, so I’m a geographic science major. So geography and then a minor was actually in theater, because I actually was quite shy. So I wanted to learn how to better do public speaking and to do improv, because because it scared me right. So being able to have that as kind of another thing for me to learn has been really helpful my career. So I was doing all the stem coursework, and then doing improv classes. So that combination was really cool. So I did my undergrad at a school in Virginia called James Madison University. And then I wasn’t planning to go directly into grad school. But because I come from a relatively low income background, I couldn’t afford the Masters without a scholarship. I got a full one through a Rotary Foundation, through the International Rotary Foundation. There’s actually a case for the first time ever in my district, about the direct link between environmental health and human health. And I was, I think, one of the only non political science people that they’ve ever had in my district, and definitely the first conservationist.
So because of that, I actually got a full ride to grad school in South Africa. So directly, I think I had three months off to South Africa, right after my undergrad graduation. So I did like a short stint with the US Fish and Wildlife for an internship, a paid internship, and then immediately got on a plane. So yeah, so that was kind of fun. So I did my master’s degree at the University of Capetown, through the the suit Institute, which is an interdisciplinary Institute. They say it’s ornithology, is a bunch of different people. And I did my master’s degree researching some of these social cultural changes after apartheid in the north of South Africa, looking at how changes in cultural shifts, and people returning back after apartheid ended, change, hurting practices, and that change grazing practices, and that change vegetation communities. So that was my masters.
Kayla Fratt 13:01
Wow. Oh, that sounds fascinating. And I mean, yeah, it’s so so interesting. So I’m hoping to be going to El Salvador to do some research on carnivore movement and ecology through my PhD. And where these places where the socio political, cultural aspects and you know, really traumatic history of these countries, influences the behavior of these animals, and, you know, colonization and farming and all of these things, it’s so complicated. And one of the reasons I’m so excited to get to talk to you is that you are someone who looks so directly at all of these different parts. Because I think that’s something that as conservationists can often be a bit of a blind spot, not not always a lot of like, I feel like the more people I talk to, the more I’m finding people who are who are trying to look at everything, but it I don’t think is a given, especially when you’re like a baby conservationists so.
Gabi Fleury 13:59
There’s so much to learn, right. And I think I think that’s kind of one of the reasons that it’s so important to one of the biggest things I learned in my career. So I did my undergraduate thesis online livestock conflict in Kenya. And I remember, I was 20. It was my first time doing any of this. And I remember just kind of being completely shocked, because this one guy who was a he’s a Kenyan conservationist, you know, he said, okay, but if you Americans know everything, where’s your megafauna? And I’m like, okay, like, fair point right, like, that actually makes a lot of sense. And it kind of made me understand, you know, like, it’s so crucial to approach problems with both confidence and humility. It’s like, you know, no, but also understand that when you’re coming into a system that’s not your own. They are the experts, the people that live there are the experts about the place and, and how things work. And it’s really important to form these really strong partnerships where they can help guide some of your questions because if you come in assumptions, sometimes you’re solving a problem that actually isn’t the biggest problem. bottom and the most helpful problem, or isn’t being done a sustainable way or a way that can be accessed by people? So the question becomes, are you doing your research for you to just get a degree? Or do you want it to actually do some good when you’re gone? So that’s something that tries to I try to let it guide my work? For sure.
Kayla Fratt 15:20
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think that’s, that’s probably the most important message that we’re going to get out of this, you know, this little series of episodes we’re doing on how to responsibly conduct you know, not just international field work, but also just anytime you’re going into another community, I was just at a bonfire with my lab last night talking, and there was a conversation going around about people who had done fieldwork in the Deep South, in the southeast, you know, and we’re in, we’re in Corvallis, Oregon, and people talking about, you know, some of the cultural issues and safety issues for some of them if you’re non binary, or, you know, a person of color, but also figuring out how to, as some, you know, an academic from Oregon, come into, you know, an area outside of Chattanooga, and be effective. And, you know, not just focus on the salamanders, but also the situation around the salamandersa.
Gabi Fleury 16:17
I think a lot of people get into wildlife because we like wildlife, not necessarily that we necessarily want to hang out with a bunch of different people, right. So it’s something that a lot of us have to have to kind of learn. And I think the most important thing that anyone can do, especially if you’re an early career conservationists is to understand your own positionality. It’s like, where you come from, what are you about? And how can that maybe affect how you see things. And also to understand that conservationists, we’re not neutral parties, in any kind of, especially in conflict work. We have our own agendas, we have our own biases. So understanding for yourself, what those are, can help kind of guide that in terms of trying to, you know, figure out a way to overcome those biases to try to meet people where they are and to create mutually beneficial solutions.
Kayla Fratt 17:05
Yeah, yeah, definitely. So for you, you know, you said that growing up with cancer, you know, and going through all of that physical therapy really helped you understand where people are coming from and learn to relate to people, how did being a person of color affect, you know, your career trajectory, whether that’s in school or relating to people outside of school? Was it helpful in South Africa? Or not?
Gabi Fleury 17:35
It’s been interesting, I guess, it’s kind of the coded answer to that. Um, so just be clear, but my dad’s black, my mom’s white, is a little Indigenous, as well. So as kind of a as a, as a mixed person, as a biracial and multiracial person. Um, it’s interesting, because it’s like, I’ve kind of grown up as someone who’s also both Brazilian and a US National, seeing things kind of from the outside, you know, I don’t feel fully American or fully Brazilian, and growing into conservation as a person of color. In some ways, I think, again, it’s kind of like having kind of like many different identities, as part of my identity, having an intersection is very powerful, and helps me relate to and have empathy for a lot of different people.
But at the same time, sometimes conservation can be difficult, because you may be the only person in the room who’s a person of color. And that can be challenging. I think a big challenging thing with my career is trying to kind of remind people that I’m not a DEI, specialist, I may be passionate about it, hear about it at work, I may have a personal stake in things being anti racist, apart from just I like my life to be easier as well.
But I think there is a tendency to sometimes put more focus on di work for scientists of color, for example, than on their research. And the interesting a couple of years ago, and I was realizing that I was getting more speaking gigs, for DEI stuff than for conservation stuff. And I’m like, Well, I’m not I’m not a DEI expert. I just, I live in this world. And I can only speak from my own perspective. Like, that’s a really interesting thing. And I think conservation because of how, especially conservation in United States because of how it’s kind of like come out, in terms of you know, like it is it was very exclusionary for a very long time. And we’re just starting to try to open it up again or not, again, open it up.
But then there’s challenges like people even knowing that you can be a conservationist, so my dad is an immigrant. My dad did not necessarily want me to be a conservationist. It’s Doctor engineer, right? So having to expend these funds, but now sometimes he jokes, I’m gonna be the wrong doctor. Right, but it’s just kind of one of those things of like, one of the funniest things he ever said to me was on a plane where he’s like, what if they asked for a doctor, like, what can you do? You’re gonna identify, he’s not a lion. And I’m like, yeah, like I can tell if this lion. But yeah, so this whole thing of just like, there’s a lot of pressures that that come with being a minority in a space, right. And luckily, and that’s not true for everybody. That’s not everyone’s experience. If you’re in certain programs, that can be a lot easier. But my experience was that, you know, it’s been sometimes I’ve had to find my communities. And I think things like science, Twitter, and black pathologists week and all those things, like I finally met people who are who are like me. And it’s really like this community that I’ve built for myself. So even if I’m in a place that, like, I go to the University of Wisconsin Madison, which is a great university, but there, there aren’t many people of color in my department, let alone in the community.
Kayla Fratt 21:04
Yeah, Wisconsin’s pretty, pretty white. I grew up in northern Wisconsin. It’s a pretty white state.
Gabi Fleury 21:11
So yeah, so um, but I have this much larger conservation community outside of my department. So yeah, so I think like, it’s just kind of you find who your people are, you find people who can kind of connect to you, and you can kind of share resources. And yeah, so it’s, but it’s not, it’s not a bad thing. Like I don’t, I don’t regret. Obviously, I had no say in the matter, but I am, I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of where I come from. I’m proud of I’m proud of my entire background, I think just one of those things that like, as conservationists, we need to there’s a two prong thing, because you hear a lot about recruitment, you hear about how do we get more people of color into conservation, which has its own challenges, considering that it’s incredibly underpaid, and doesn’t totally work people for their hard work. And it’s hard to break in and people drop out all the time in their early career, I just was very lucky that I kind of was for farther enough in my career that by, I never had that kind of like danger zone, because I was always either in school or in a job.
But that’s not the case for so many people. And I sometimes do think that, you know, if I hadn’t gotten that scholarship at that crucial time to get my masters, I might have just dropped off conservation and to a different profession. So recruitment is a problem, but at the same time, it’s also retention. So it is kind of a thing where it’s like you are, in most spaces, maybe one of the only people in the room? How do you make those spaces safe for people that they want to say stay? And how do you make sure that everyone who is not, you know, of a marginalized community understands kind of like how to treat that person without microaggressions and to be sensitive, and there’s just so much work that needs to be done. But I think a lot of that work is is needs to be also focused on retention, because there’s people like we’re here, like we exist. So it’s like, how can we take care of the people that we already have in conservation? And one thing that was really funny is that, you know, I was asked at a former employment opportunity, basically, do you want to do Dei, and I told the person, I’m like, the best thing that I can do for representation, and recruitment and retention is for me to do a good job at my job. And I think that’s a really important thing to remember is that, you know, like supporting the people who already are there.
Kayla Fratt 23:39
Yeah, yeah, no, I mean, that makes sense on a lot of levels. And, you know, it’s always easier, you know, like, this is maybe a gross comparison. But, you know, we talked about this in business where it’s always easier to maintain a customer than it is to get a new one. And it’s easier to have people stay in the field and try to maintain them in the field than it is to constantly be trying to recruit people. And, you know, yeah, as you said, I mean, there’s so many barriers and conservation and pay is a huge one.
And, you know, again, actually at the same bonfire, I was out last night, you know, there’s a couple undergrads who were just finishing up their field season working for one of my lab mates. And, you know, they heard that I was the conservation dog person, and they all come over and they’re all wide eyed. And they’re like, how do I get into the conservation dog field? And I was like, okay, like, here are the things that I can tell you, you know, first off, subscribe to this podcast, because it’s free. We’ve got 175 episodes, you’ll find something useful.
But also, you know, so like, here are all the things you could do but also, you know, let’s let’s sit down and like okay, get yourself another beer. We’re gonna sit down and talk about you know, some of the pros and cons of this field and like, what do you actually want for your yourself and your life? As far as you know, homeownership and stable income and being in the same country Did you forever? Do you want to have a job where you’re home for dinner with your kids? Consistently? You know, because maybe that’s something that can happen within the conservation dog world. But I don’t know many people who do it, the vast majority of people in the conservation dog world, we don’t have kids. I know. They’re very expensive. And it’s hard. You know, like, when I’m spending seven weeks in Kenya, and then I’m home for a couple of weeks, and then I’m off to Guatemala for two weeks, and I’m home for a couple of months. And then I’m you don’t even we’re like we’re applying for a project to send my my teammates out on in Wyoming. You know, it doesn’t have to be exotic around the world. But if you’re working in Wyoming, when your your partner lives in Montana, you’re not home for dinner, you know, it doesn’t matter, these states are very large.
Gabi Fleury 25:46
I literally broke up with a potential boyfriends because I was like, I’m moving to Namibia. And he was just like, is this a line? And I’m like, No, bro. It’s like, I literally have to go like, this is my job. And I do think that like, once you pass far enough in your career, that you have some stability, it’s better, but you have to kind of get there. And that can take a decade. It’s like, do you want to have a decade of potential unrest? Can you handle that? Can your family handle that and, and I think it’s really good to be frank with people about conservation is a wonderful field, you can wake up every day and know that you’re making a difference. Really live your value system and make an impact. On the same time, it also demands of you in a way that many fields do not. And you just kind of have to, I always tell so I always have to kind of I speak to a lot of undergrads. And I always have to kind of dance this careful line, right, like people talk about, I don’t want to be discouraging, and have people who would be amazing for this field, just get scared and like not do it. But I also don’t want to tell people, it’s sunshine and rainbows. And it’s like, perfect all the time. So what I usually tell people is I’m like, if you are really into conservation, and you dig into it, and this is what you want to do, if your life, literally nothing will stop you and nothing should stop you the barriers and the walls are for other people. Okay, just keep going. Right? If you get into this, and you’re like, Oh, this is interesting, but I can see myself do other things, do the other things and do conservation as a side thing, because like you don’t necessarily have to go full on into fieldwork. And also there’s many different ways to be a conservationist. So people will be like, Oh, but I like I’m not good at math, or I don’t want to hike and I’m just like, you can be a fundraiser, you can be an attorney, you can be a graphic designer, you could be a writer, you could be an economist, you could be literally anything or an engineer, and also apply that into conservation.
Kayla Fratt 27:43
And we need more of honestly, like, yeah, yeah, there’s, there’s, there’s plenty of people who want to band birds. And that’s an amazing job to have, for a couple of summers, I’ve actually never had a bird banding gig. But um, it just feels like the example. Man, we need more people doing that sort of stuff. And like, I know, I got my first conservation dog job. After I’d worked in conservation advocacy, and politics was not my bag, it turns out. But after that, you know, I learned how to build websites. And I was building websites, actually for dog trainers and using that as a way to also kind of push forward to some dog welfare things, and then eventually got a job working on the websites and social media and, you know, fundraising emails and those sorts of things for an organization.
And then I was able to, like, take that sidestep into working with the dogs and being in the field. But, you know, realistically, if I really wanted to have a family at a stable career, it actually would have made perfect sense for me to stay full more in that like outreach, and communications lane and still get all do all of the amazing impacts that I really cared about. And I was still getting to like, go to a bunch of the field sites and meet all the people do a lot of stuff. Because if you’re on the communications team, you have to do some of the on the ground stuff. So anyway, you know, it’s just, you don’t have to do whatever the hardest version of this.
Gabi Fleury 29:16
And also, everyone’s journey is their own. So it’s always really interesting because people will kind of come up to you. I’m teaching this semester, a bunch of freshmen coming up to me being like, how do I be a conservationist and I’m all everyone comes into it differently. Like you’re gonna come into it differently depending on what your skill sets are and what your opportunities are. And some of that you can have some control over you can build up certain skill sets, but also you just have to kind of like not have such a rigid idea of what the path to being what you’re going to do is. My first job was that US Fish and Wildlife gig I was on a tern colony. I didn’t band anything, I was doing this productivity checks was being dive bombed by like angry Roseate terns so that was super fun, but like I work with carnivores, and I’ve always wanted to work with carnivores. If I have to turned up my nose at that job, I wouldn’t have gotten important skill sets.
So I think it’s really important when you’re really early to not again, like, avoid being rigid being like anything I do is going to teach me things is going to teach me what I don’t like, which is also really important, and guide me a direction. And honestly, because conservation is so competitive learning other skill sets that aren’t strictly field skill sets is crucial. Like if you are not at stats or good at, again, like building websites or graphic design, or you can write a mean grant application like all of these things will help you. And I think that in some ways, our education system kind of doesn’t really prepare people to be employed once they leave as a conservationist because we’re just teaching these very traditional skill sets.
Kayla Fratt 30:51
Yeah, yeah, I think I’ve told this story on the podcast before but I was offered an REU. That ended up I wasn’t able to take, but basically I was offered the REU because I was fluent in Spanish, I could drive stick. And I had been, I’ve been teaching rock climbing, because they had had a student in the past, who are an RU Student in the past, who couldn’t drive their field vehicles couldn’t communicate with all of their field staff. This was in Panama. And I was too scared to deal with, you know, climbing and rappelling in and out of these caves to get there. It was a vampire about projects in Panama. And I’m still sad. I didn’t get to do it. But yeah, like the three skills that stood out to them on my CV were absolutely not the years of you know, mist netting and electro shocking and like, my, you know, honors, mammalogy class, like, none of that was actually because there’s a dime a dozen.
Gabi Fleury 31:49
You really have to know and you just really have to be able to stand out. And that’s a buy, but also kind of leaning into your personal interests and your personal like, yeah, like you said, like rock climbing, like, you know, you never know when like a hobby or a side interest will help you in your career. And I think the worst thing that people can do is be too laser focused. Yeah.
Kayla Fratt 32:13
No, I love that you minored in theater. That’s brilliant. Was that strategic when you were 18? Were you like an unusually prescient 18 year old?
Gabi Fleury 32:22
Yeah, I did it on purpose. Like, I didn’t want to be an actor or anything. But like, I really, like I said, I was scared of public speaking, I knew I had to talk to a lot of people to be in conservation. I wanted to be able to communicate my thoughts better. And I wanted to get over kind of like my nerves. And honestly, like, it’s funny, because it’s like, I maybe draw back on that minor more than I do my STEM stuff.
Like, what I do is I talk to people, and sometimes people who are quite angry at me, and it has nothing to do with me, it’s what I represent. You know, if I pitch up and I’m wearing like, a cheetah on my chest, and I’m pitching up to people who lost a bunch of livestock, they come in with assumptions too. And so a lot of my job is actually de escalation or trying, again, trying to find that commonality. Like, what can we agree on? Okay, we agree on livestock is important. We agree on how do we try to reduce losses? What we don’t agree on is, if somebody says, Oh, I’m going to go shoot this cheetah, I actually it’s actually not my space to say no.
I think it’s kind of a misconception that people in terms of how conservationists work with HWC, is that the worst thing you could say is basically trying to tell people what to do with wildlife on their own land. So you have to kind of so one thing that I used to do is like and it’s again drawing on my improv classes. There was one farmer who was like a total jackal killer like he loved killing jackals. I had gone up to this farmer, who was really keen on killing jackals and told him no killing jackals are morally wrong and they’re good for the environment. What does this guy care he’s losing a bunch of sheep like he hates jackals. And honestly, it’s kind of justified, right. So what I’ve told him is is true. If you shoot out jackals, jackals will breed faster. Jackals will make more jackals. You will have more jackals on your land. And he just looks at me, he goes, I don’t want that. That will be the thing that got to him.
The other thing is that he really wanted to shoot up this leopard that had been going after his traps. wag my finger at him and said, you know like leopards are important for the environment. What are you doing like that would just make a more of an us versus them problem. What I told him which again is based on biological fact, is that okay, we might not like this leopard, but he’s your leopard. If you choose this leopard, you’re gonna get three leopards fighting for territory and you’re gonna lose a lot more livestock. So he actually ended up naming the leopard. It became his leopard. We would give him data that would basically say Guess what this leopard is doing this week. And he became invested in it because it became his leopard. So it’s trying to not lecture the people or to come at it from your own position. Because of course, my objective is to make him not shoot the leopard. But you can’t really you have to have empathy for the fact that people are dealing with real problems. And that has to be as equal in importance to the conservation concern. And I think that’s the hard part. I don’t think that’s always kept as equal in people’s minds when they’re working on it from a conservation perspective.
Kayla Fratt 35:37
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I love the way that you were able to bring in all of these biological facts and these things that, you know, in order to explain how actually dealing with this, like removing this one animal might not have the result that you’re hoping for, because you’re creating basically a power vacuum. And we all know what that looks like. Yeah, yeah, that’s really neat. So you were just in Botswana, doing some prep work. And I think that there’s there’s some things to learn about how that meeting actually went. So you were not going to Botswana to just go around and and track down these animals. You know, you weren’t, you didn’t have your telemetry equipment with you assume you had some other stuff with us to tell us about how what you were doing there and how they that relates to you know, avoiding continuing the pattern of kind of parachute conservation and colonialism as it relates to conservation.
Gabi Fleury 36:33
Yeah, for sure. So as someone who has some African ancestry, but is not from Africa, I have to be very mindful of that, right, my positionality is I’m coming from the West, right. And in order to be ethical and sustainable, one thing that I always do, no matter where I work is, I do not do anything unless I have the honor of an on the ground affiliate who has been there for a decade or more, ideally, is staffed full of people in positions of power from that country. Ideally, it’s run by a person from that country.
But who is a strong affiliate who is based in communities that they’ve worked with for at least a decade. And the reason for that is is multifaceted. Trying to get any work done in any kind of community based conservation, if they don’t know you, is basically almost impossible, they are rightfully not going to care about the work that you’re doing. Because they literally don’t know you. And it takes a long time to create those relationships, you have to be quite patient. And even if you have the only affiliates, you have to be quite patient, there’s a lot of meeting people, you’re sitting down, you know, like at their homesteads, and you’re just talking to them, and you’re getting to know them as human beings. You can’t speed through that process. A lot of researchers tried to turbo through that process. So they can just put some camera traps up but like you can’t, you really have to lose relationships.
And and also kind of again, humility factor, right of like, you go into a community with your own ground affiliate, you get introduced, you meet people, but also they might tell you that the problem that you think is the problem is not the problem. Or they might say Oh, but it’s over here. Or there might be concerns. And I think like a big a big thing that I was thinking about is I’m doing a before after control impact design. So just describing what that is, that basically means that I have experimental livestock enclosure and the control livestock enclosure. So the experimental livestock enclosure has like a deterrence, like say a flashing light system, and the control does not.
One thing that I was thinking about this is the control farmers are losing livestock, how do you equitably choose who would be a control farmer, that could be very unethical, which is why there aren’t a lot of like before after control impact designs. So what it solution that the NGO and I came up with is that at the end of the project, we actually will donate the deterrent that we determined worked the best to those control farmers. So they have something that can help them with their losses at the end of the study period, which isn’t very long, it’s about six months. But also the idea that we can keep them updated will tell them about what’s happening with their neighbors, they have something to look forward to and something that they can be invested in, they can ask questions about these methodologies. And it can be equitable and ethical. And that was something that before I even put anything up, that was something that I’m thinking about is how do I avoid causing unintentional harm by trying? Which is why it’s so important to have these affiliates, as I said, like, what’s a good way to do this? What’s a good way to not make things tense in the community or –
Kayla Fratt 39:37
Right, yeah, yeah, because if, you know, Farmer A has a bunch of livestock that he loses overnight. And they’re in, you know, the control group. Yeah, it seems like especially in small communities or areas where tensions are high and I don’t know much about Botswana kind of socio economically or climatically right now, but when we were in Kenya, you know, they were at the tail end of a drought that it, my understanding is it’s finally more or less broken. But, you know, tensions, that desperation was just running so high that you wouldn’t want to do anything that could cause, you know, strife within the community as well. And also, you know, yeah, and as we were talking about with these livestock losses, like this is a very, very real, huge socio economic factor for these people. They’re not just, you know, it’s not like, Oh, they’re backyard chickens, and they lost one to a fox, which, you know, is still a butter, I’ve been through it. But you know, my family wasn’t going to not eat, when our chickens got munched.
Gabi Fleury 40:37
Yeah, there’s also cultural factors of livestock being important for social standing. It’s not even just, like, economic. And I think it’s a mistake to kind of think of things just in terms of economic thing. Now, there’s also also the intangible costs, the fear of what is it going to happen? I don’t know, when it’s gonna happen, how bad is it going to be, and the stress kind of around the idea that it could happen, but anytime, you know, it’s like, so then there’s a whole lack of control thing, and people react more strongly to things that are outside of their control. That’s just human nature. So yeah, so I think a lot of this is, it’s very complex. And having that on ground affiliate not only allows you to be ethical, it also allows you to be sustainable. So what I’m doing is my project has been co designed with these people. So I have my pity. I also am co designing it with this NGO. And it’s fitting within the mosaic of things that they’re already doing. And it will also be presented at these working forums of all the big carnivore NGOs in Botswana, where we can say, Okay, this worked well, here, this worked well, here, this workflow here. And then that becomes part of that conversation that can be moved forward on ground long after my PhD.
Kayla Fratt 41:48
Yeah, yeah. How did you get connected with with this NGO and with these groups, because it seems like that’s, you know, these on the ground affiliates is so important, but you how do you find them?
Gabi Fleury 41:58
Sure, yeah. Well, the cool thing is that once you’re in carnivore conservation, you literally can throw a rock and you’ll hit like seven of the people who work on your site species, we all know each other, at least of each other. But in terms of getting connected. When I was first starting out, I would dry email people. So when I was when I created the environmental video game, I created operation Ferdinand, where that was just literally just my friends and me who’s a software engineer working together on this one project. I dry emailed people that I knew of, but we’d never met.
So I do think that you can broach that. I created this connection with these guys because CCF, Cheetah Conservation Fund, advised Cheetah Conservation Botswana in its early days, and they had that connection. But I actually didn’t even use that connection to really meet them. I knew of them through that. So but I was making a Fulbright application, which I received, but then coffee blew up, which was unfortunate. I was applying for Fulbright. And then I just I dry emailed Rebecca Klein, who is the CEO of Cheetah Conservation Botswana and just said, Okay, here’s what I bring to the table. This is what I’m thinking, How can this be useful for you? Let’s let’s design it together. And I did it far enough in advance that like we literally designed the project together. And I think that that’s key, kind of a two parter thing of like, not telling people what you’re going to do, doing it with them, but also being very clear about what benefits are you bringing to them? Why should they want to work with you? Because it costs them time and it costs them energy, and sometimes even funding right? So I now have had relationships with CCB for three years. Very strong, wonderful working relationship. And, but that foundation has been crucial for my PhD.
Kayla Fratt 43:51
Yeah, yeah. And then I mean, sounds similar to the project that I’m hoping to get off the ground in El Salvador, I read one paper that totally captured my imagination. Well, first, first, I fell in love with the country and a boy there. And then I literally, like went to Google Scholar and typed El Salvador conservation, I think, found a paper that said that, contrary to popular belief, Pumas are not extinct in El Salvador, and it was the first photographic evidence that they’re not extinct. And that had just come out in 2020. So I emailed the lead author and was like, Hey, this is amazing. What have you guys been doing sense? Like, what’s going on? I’m in the country. I’ve got scat dogs, like how could we work together? What does this look like? You know, and we’re still working on what that’s going to look like. But being able to, you know, really just come at it from this like place of curiosity and excitement. You know, they were excited to get to work with us and pretty excited that we’ve got dogs to bring to the table, which is a nice thing that kind of comes with our line of work and then You know, for me as well, his English, Francisco’s English is pretty good. But my Spanish is a lot better. And that’s just that’s something we’ve talked about on past episodes about international work in particular is, you know whether, whether you just get to the place where you can do some niceties, or if you can work in places that you’re really able to converse in the native language that’s really helpful.
Gabi Fleury 45:21
Yeah, I’m learning Setswana right now, and it is challenge. But it’s so important for relationships, even if you’re not fluent, to show that you’re putting in the effort to show that you care enough to be able to use the right honorifics, which is really important, especially in community work, making sure that you’re being respectful and that you’re respecting, kind of like how people would prefer to be addressed. And what’s the appropriate way to address people, especially in cultures where, where there’s a huge age component, right? Being respectful. And it’s interesting calibos Because most of the people at counterpose are actually elderly or older. It’s like not only coming as an outsider, but like as a as a younger person, like how do I express respect for these people? Yeah.
Kayla Fratt 46:05
Yeah, yeah, totally well, and that was something we ran into. It’s funny. So in El Salvador, if you enter a restaurant, or anywhere, people are eating you say provecho to like every person, so like, bon appetit, or something to every person. And Daniel and I were traveling to Guatemala. And he noticed immediately that people didn’t do that, just across the border, you know, and these are countries the size of states. And he was like, Oh my God, these Guatemalans. Like, they’re so rude. And he was, you know, had his panties all in a bunch over it. And then we realized, you know, a couple days later that what you do in Guatemala is as you stand up to leave, you announce provecho, to the entire restaurant, and to the chef. It just, it just happens after, it was one of those little things. It’s like, gosh, even as you’re traveling through these, like teeny, tiny countries, and even being fluent in the language, there’s still just these like little things where it’d be so easy for someone to think that I’m being rude. Because I send my compliments to the chef and wish everyone a good meal at the wrong time. And I have not yet found any good books that actually get into that level of nuance, or like, consistent guides that get into that level of nuance. I do think that’s the sort of thing that like, just do your best to be polite and do the best you can. And hopefully, someone will like correct you, or guide you at some point and at least understand your intention.
Gabi Fleury 47:29
Yeah, and also understand that like different countries. So the good thing about me being Brazilian is actually I draw a lot on Brazil, because Brazil is very similar to many African countries where it’s relationships first. So it’s all about where, like, who do you know, and creating those relationships and that relationships are really important. You know, we always joke about Brazil time, you know, it’s really funny in Brazil. So like, there’s this thing that people do. And it’s a thing that I’ve seen in other places, too, which is amazing, where you kind of do this little parade of visiting people. And everyone has a perfect idea of how long this visit is supposed to last always exactly around an hour. And they can like, just sense it like nobody looks at the watch, like they just know. And you go to important people in the community, which are also often elderly people, and you sit down and they you have a chat with them, and they chat with you, and you just talk to them. And it’s kind of creating those important bonds.
Kayla Fratt 48:22
Yeah, definitely. I mean, and that’s something where I can see again, these on the ground affiliates, and really having the humility and the patience to let them take the lead. And not having your own agenda is so, so important. Because again, like, I don’t know, if I had picked up a book on Central American manners, if it would have explained to me that in El Salvador provecho comes first and Guatemala comes at the end. But just, you know, being able to watch people and being really, really curious about that, and, you know, trying not to be the one who’s ending every conversation like that’s such a good point, as you know, Americans Yeah, I if I find myself always being the one who’s wrapping up conversations, that’s probably a sign that I’m doing some amount of cultural faux pas.
Gabi Fleury 48:22
And if you try to get out of that early, or you’re trying to skip somebody, like people will be strange, offended when I was a little kid, I was always like mom, like Dad, I don’t want to like go talk to like, Dona, whoever, like we just talked to the seven of them. He’s like, not like she will know that we didn’t sit with her and she will be upset. And so those keeping this relationship alive, is really important. And it’s less of a time conscious thing. Like I think as Americans we’re always about like, need to be efficient, need to be on time. But you’re investing in those relationships. And it’s really important to take that time and again, get to know people as human beings, and to let them know that like, you’re not just doing this for your PhD, you’re doing this have genuine concern for the situation and trying to help. And that’s really important, but it’s really funny how like, I find myself kind of drawing from this more collectivist culture as a Brazilian in my fieldwork where I’m just like, Ah, it’s like, it’s like going to visit the Donas, you know, like, we’re gonna go have a chat, and I think that’s really helped me connect with people. Yeah, no, for sure. Yeah, I think if I had to give advice to anyone who wants to be a conservationist, they’re like, What do I need to know? What should I do? I’d say the best tool in your toolbox is empathy. Before anything else, it’s having the ability to set aside your preconceptions, and really connect with other humans, because you will be working with people, I don’t care if you’re, whatever you’re working on, there will be people you’ll be working with them, and being able to genuinely care about what their opinions are, even if they might be quite different from yours, because that’s another thing that like I’ve had to learn, which is very hard, is that the guy who wants to shoot the leopard is not objectively wrong. It is a point of view, just like my point of view of not wanting to shoot the leopard is objectively wrong.
And it’s hard, because it’s like, I’ve been in situations where a farmer would call me and they’d be like, if you don’t get here in 10 minutes, I’m gonna shoot this cat, and then I show up, and they’ve achieved skin for me, right? And you feel upset, right? Like, you can’t help. But you have to kind of put that aside and be like, Okay, this is the situation, this is how I feel about that. How can I improve this going forward, and at the same time, even at your most upset trying to understand.
And I think that is really important, because in the current conflict world, human wildlife conflict is a very loaded term. I use it because it’s just what’s used. But it’s not my favorite term. Because really, every human wildlife conflict is human human conflict, or its human wildlife is conflict about wildlife, or conflict with other people. And the thing that I think is really hard for conservationists to learn is that a lot of the time that conflict is with us as a business. So we have to just kind of admit that there is kind of like this low deadness to being the conservationists and maybe past things that have happened, and you’re not coming in at blank slate, you’re coming into a situation where they may have had bad interactions with conservationists in the past. So it’s trying to not make tensions worse, and also hopefully, through your relationship with them and prove their idea of what conservation is, can be. So it’s a lot of responsibility. And none of this is about science. You know, like we’re scientists, but 90% of the work is completely unrelated to that. And I think that’s a hard thing to explain to people who are looking to be a scientist.
Kayla Fratt 52:38
Yeah, definitely, I think that’s a great point to wrap up on. And, you know, I know, we didn’t really touch on dogs as well, but I think we’ve done this in the past. But you know, it’s also it’s a whole other level when you’re the person showing up in another culture. And, you know, people may or may not be afraid of your working dog, they may or may not understand why they’re there, they may be worried about that dog interacting with their livestock. You know, there’s a lot of stuff that just, the dogs just add a whole other extra level. But then in a lot of cases, they can also be a total superpower, because in cultures where dogs are viewed, you know, similarly to how they’re viewed in North America, which has not all cultures, but in places where that is, you know, they really break down barriers and people get excited. And you know, people, you’ve got this, you’ve got your own kind of charismatic megafauna right at your side that can really help people get excited. That was definitely when I was doing aquatic invasive species work in Yellowstone, you know, people are not stoked to have you stop their boat and inspect their boat really carefully. But when you explain that the dogs are a lot faster, so this is much better for you, I promise, you’re gonna get out and go fishing very soon. And be you know, like, they’re just happy. Like, a lot of times the kids are the ones that are the fussiest, and the kids are going to be excited to see the dog and you can use the dogs for the outreach as well.
But being cognizant again, that that’s not always going to be the case. Niffler, my younger dog when we were in El Salvador, I can’t tell you how many times I, you know, people, you know, they pull their kids away, and they put themselves in between the dog and the kid. And, you know, people will say, Oh, my God, that’s a wolf. He’s a border collie. He’s got pointy ears and he’s grey. You know, to me, I’m like, What are you talking about? But anyway, I don’t need to go down a huge rabbit hole with that line of thinking.
Gabi Fleury 54:29
Like the CCB. So Cheetah Conservation Botswana does work with dogs, they do a livestock Guardian dog program. Their program is one of the most culturally sensitive and interesting programs I’ve ever seen, because they’re not they’re not like taking the big Anatolians from Turkey. They’re actually training local dogs. They’re called swana dog. Basically like street dogs were like the random dogs that get bred some of them like look like little dachshunds, some of them are huge, like they’re just all over the place. But they work and they tested them, and they are 80% effective at reducing losses in the field, which is about the same as Anatolian, and they live a lot longer because they’re adapted to the environment, they’re healthier there, they can live on scraps. So you don’t have to feed them anything special. And they already are dogs everyone’s familiar with, you can because they’re just around.
So they have this amazing thing where they’ll just buy these random dogs from like local farmers that like you know, the dog had a litter, and then they’ll just put the dogs in with the goats. And the dogs will learn that the goat is their family, the goats are their family. And sometimes they’re often with an older dog that will teach them and I’ve watched I mean, I always joke as goat o’clock because we’ll be working in the office and then the livestock guardian dogs like completely autonomously will just come through and they’ll come through and they’ll lead their herds through. You’ll be like, oh, yeah, there’s like Gift and like, there’s whatever and then like, there’s one that like, I swear looks like a dachshund and had like with it with a German Shepherd. He’s a weird looking dog, but he’s just like trotting on his little legs.
Kayla Fratt 56:01
Do you have photos? Okay, thank you.
Gabi Fleury 56:06
Like these tiny legs, and he’s just like, Oh, baby. I don’t know what’s up with you. But he, but they’re doing their job. And, um, but the fact that it is these local dogs is brilliant. That’s amazing. Yeah, so definitely, definitely check out Cheetah Conservation Botswana’s livestock guardian program, because after years of being around LGD programs, I’ve been, you know, I hung out with one of the flagships. They’re all really cool. But this is a specifically really cool take. Because it’s taking those those local animals and putting them to use.
Kayla Fratt 56:39
I was not aware of that program, and that there are people using these local dogs. And we get, people ask that occasionally on the detection dogs side of things. And I think where we’ve kind of come down on it so far has been, we just haven’t had a long term enough project on the ground where it makes sense to be looking for and screening the local dogs, although it’s totally possible. Christine Figner, who we’ve had on the show before she or don’t, we haven’t had on the show. She’s in our class. She works with sea turtles in Costa Rica, and she her dog, her sea turtle nest detection dog is a local dog. But yeah, you do kind of have to be on the ground for long enough that you can look for the right dog for this line of work, and then train the dog and then do the field work and for us and the model that we’re in. That’s that doesn’t work for us right now. But you know, even when you know you and I have that shared connection with action for cheetahs in Kenya, you know, their their dog, Madi is just he’s a local. And he’s just, you know, he’s a local mix dog.
Gabi Fleury 57:41
Yeah, we love Madi. He’s like a collie mixed with a rottie, or something. I’ve no idea what he is. But yeah, he’s cute.
Kayla Fratt 57:47
That’s, that’s what they’ve said. Yeah. But you know, and when we were talking about coming there, and you know, they were talking about, oh, we might need another dog. And we were like, Okay, do you want us to try to screen a dog and train a dog and then bring it over with us? You know, that partially, that wasn’t the right time. But partially, they were also like, you know, honestly, the a lot of the diseases here, we just have better, like, literal survivability with dogs that are born and raised here. Like trips and biases. And those sorts of things. Like the dogs that come from North America and Western Europe just don’t have the same. They’re not made of the same stuff anymore.
Gabi Fleury 58:26
In the environments of the Kalahari, it’s like you need dogs that will be able to be adapted to them. They’re okay with, like, surviving in that really harsh environment. Yeah, yeah, sure. So cool.
Kayla Fratt 58:38
Yeah, definitely. Well, alright, is there anything else that you wanted to say? I know, he said, we were wrapping up on the empathy point. And then we went down another rabbit hole.
Gabi Fleury 58:47
It’s cool. Um, yeah, I think I think what I would just, for people who were who’s your target audience, I actually, should ask that. Are there people who are conservationists, or who are interested in conservation, or?
Kayla Fratt 59:02
We’ve got a pretty solid mix in our listeners, between dog people who want to work in conservation and conservation people who want to work with dogs, but most of them are early career probably 25 to 35 women would be like our average person.
Gabi Fleury 59:15
So they’re already they’re on the conservation train, and don’t have to tell people thatconservation is important. I think like the the best advice I could give is that, again, if you want to be in conservation, literally and this is what I had to tell myself every single day for like, five years straight, especially in that very early period right after undergrad. The obstacles are for other people, there to stop other people. So don’t let anything discourage you from going down that path. But also to make sure that you take care of yourself as a person. I think it’s really easy as a conservationist to forget to to be a whole person, to again, like literally touch grass for fun, not for work, like just touch grass. And to make sure that, that you also, while you want to be focused well, you want to be relentless while you don’t want to give up and protect your mental health and keep your relationships and it’s easier said than done. But some of the best things that I’ve learned is that you can’t give so much of yourself to your work that you forget how to be human. Make sure that you keep that balance, and then you’ll be an even better conservationists. Because, like, who conserves the conservationists, right?
Kayla Fratt 1:00:32
Yeah. Just again, the same thing. Yeah, especially as you know, you both of us are very overwhelmed and stressed out. It’s like, you know, I’ve got my little candle going on. I’m gonna go on a run later and I took a stressed out and you know, we gotta do the things.
Gabi Fleury 1:00:49
If anyone wants to find me, I am on Twitter at fleurygs. On Twitter, I am less active than that. Right now. I’ve actually moved mostly the Instagram. Instagram handle is called bescicurious. And I will be posting more content as I continue to work on this project. So please do reach out. And I’m sure that there’ll be a link for my website somewhere. Yeah, definitely have any wishes to reach out. Just definitely, definitely contact me there.
Kayla Fratt 1:01:22
Yeah. And where can people get your video game?
Gabi Fleury 1:01:24
I will send a link through. So it’s a little it’s a little rusty right now, because there’s been a lot of operating changes. Changes since we made it, but I can send you a link for PCs.
Kayla Fratt 1:01:37
We’d love that. Yeah. All right. So as always, people can find those in the show notes. So don’t worry about trying to write anything down if you are driving on the freeway. As always, thank you so much for listening. I hope you’ve learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find the show notes, donate to K9Conservationists join our Patreon or sign up for our conservation detection dog handler course all at k9conservationists.org. Until next time!